The Zika Virus: More of What is to Come

With the onset of the Zika epidemic, humanity must consider pressing solutions in addressing tropical disease. Such diseases are mainly spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which thrives in hot, humid climates. One of the reasons why the virus has spread across the Americas and other tropical regions so rapidly is that these regions are even more humid and now receive more precipitation thanks to shifts in precipitation patterns. Thus, tropical diseases spread and become more prevalent as the Earth warms and populations in hot, humid climates become more urbanized. It is much easier for disease to spread in urban areas due to population density, improper sanitation and infrastructure, which contribute to mosquitoes thriving in still bodies of water, as well as general inaccessibility to vaccination and proper health care.

Disease outbreaks such as the Zika threaten global public health given the sheer globalization of our world today. Already, the virus has reached the United States and Western Europe. Yes, industrialized countries have the means to cope with these viruses, but they are still unwelcome, especially due to the severity of microcephaly, a birth defect linked to the virus. Frankly, Zika seems mild in comparison to the outbreak of diseases that are likely to occur as global warming worsens. Dengue and malaria infect 400 and 207 million annually across the globe, respectively, and are especially fatal among children. Zika is just one example of how globalized disease outbreaks threaten human livelihood. Exotic diseases that may have never found their way into the Western world now do so with immigration and travel to and from regions.

Thankfully, technology in the form of genetic modification and vaccines can alleviate the spread of tropical disease emanating from mosquito species. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funds the development of genetically modified mosquitoes to both reduce the chances of young maturing to adulthood in addition to carrying a form of bacteria prohibiting the spread of dengue to humans. Of course, eliminating a species of mosquito may have a large impact on fragile ecosystems. They are an integral food source for several species of animals and insects. What is more ethical and proactive for the survival of humanity is the spread of vaccinations against major tropical disease. As the world’s deadliest animal to humans, emphasis on developing vaccines and preventing conditions for disease to spread through proper urban development may be the surest bets for addressing future public health challenges from global warming.

Advertisements