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Sat Jan 30, 2016, 11:06 AM

Tropical Disease Scientist - Houston's Poor Neighbohoods Could Be Prime Zika Real Estate


Report yesterday quoted experts who said that Zika was a low risk to the United States because the U.S. doesn’t have the poverty and high population densities that have caused the explosive spread of Zika in Brazil, but Dr. Peter Hotez, a tropical disease researcher who lives in Texas, has warned that poverty and high population density makes Houston highly vulnerable to a Zika outbreak. He warned that the whole Gulf coast is already suffering from increasing levels of tropical diseases spread by mosquitoes, in particular dengue fever. Because Zika virus is related to dengue fever and has the same mosquito vector the expansion of dengue in the Gulf coast region is a good indicator of the potential spread of Zika virus.

The racism, dire poverty and inadequate government services of Texas and the Gulf states make impoverished African American communities the most vulnerable to the spread of Zika. But what happens in impoverished communities in the Americas won’t stay in those communities. The catastrophic income inequality in the big cities of Brazil that led to the explosive spread of Zika there is now threatening the Americas. Cases have been reported in Puerto Rico where it could be gaining a foothold. Zika cases have also been reported in Texas but cool January temperatures in Texas are not favorable for mosquito breeding. Dr Hotez warns that Zika will be a threat to Houston as soon as temperatures warm up this spring.

“I’m quite convinced it’s going to be all over the Caribbean within the next few weeks. And then, where’s next?” he said. “Where we’re standing here in the Gulf Coast … Pretty much all of the Gulf Coast cities are vulnerable but Houston is the largest.” It is less than 15 minutes’ drive from Hotez’s office in the world’s biggest medical complex to the Fifth Ward, a historic, mostly African American quarter just north-east of downtown Houston. When he hears experts assert that Zika is unlikely to spread significantly in the US, his response is: go to the Fifth Ward and look around.

Trash, particularly dumped tires, litter poor communities across the south. Our utter disregard as a nation for the conditions that poor people are living in is a threat to everyone’s health. We need to immediately expand Medicaid to all states, we need to clean up trash across the Gulf states immediately and we need to fund research on rapidly developing a vaccination for Zika now.



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