Gale Postdoc Dr. Justin Roby on Zika in King County (Article in Crosscut)

Zika has arrived in the Northwest. Will it spread? The short answer: “It’s pretty unlikely, at this point,” says Justin Roby, an immunologist at the University of Washington who specializes in flaviviruses (a genus of viruses that includes dengue, West Nile and Zika).

Zika Has Arrived in the Northwest. Will it Spread?

Article By Samantha Larson, Crosscut

Doctors confirmed the eighth case of Zika in King County this week, bringing the total number of infections found in Washington State up to 24. Zika puts fetuses at risk of microcephaly, a condition that affect’s a baby’s head size, and thus brain development.

In all of these instances, the virus was acquired while traveling in Latin America or the Caribbean. But Zika is now spreading in Miami — the first cases of local transmission within the continental U.S. Does that mean that mosquitoes could spread the disease here in Seattle, too?

The short answer: “It’s pretty unlikely, at this point,” says Justin Roby, an immunologist at the University of Washington who specializes in flaviviruses (a genus of viruses that includes dengue, West Nile and Zika).

But don’t breathe a sigh of relief just yet.

None of the more than 40 mosquito species found in Washington are effective carriers of this particular virus. Zika is most commonly transmitted by a species of mosquitoes called Aedis aegypti and, a bit less commonly, by another species called Aedes albopictus. Simply put, the weather here is too cold for those types of mosquitoes, which prefer the tropics. (In fact, for a variety of reasons, we have relatively few skeeters here at all.)

While the range of Zika-carrying mosquitoes, particularly albopictus, does include large portions of the U.S., from Delaware to California, and is increasing as climate change continues to cause temperatures to rise, at present, Washington is a safe distance from any of the bugs’ potential habitat.

“There may be rare instances where the mosquito is imported accidentally,” Roby explains — on a shipment of fruits or vegetables, for example. “But I don’t imagine they’ll be able to establish themselves here because of the winters we have.”

Read the full article on Crosscut.