Public health experts say Hurricane Matthew left pools of stagnant water ripe for mosquito breeding in areas that were already vulnerable to the breed linked to the spread of Zika virus.
The torrential rains left flooding in some areas that may remain inaccessible for weeks. That's of particular concern since the mosquito that carries Zika doesn't need huge bodies of water to breed, said Dr. Amesh Adalja, infectious disease expert and senior associate at the UPMC Center for Health Security.
In Florida, where all of 105 of the locally acquirred cases of Zika reported have originated, health officials last month found mosquitoes that tested positive for the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fortunately the Miami-Dade County region - where the first local cases of Zika infection were reported - were saved by the worst impact of the hurricane.
Still, efforts toward containing the virus will likely be on hold there while the region attempts to clean up and address more pressing public health matters such as water contamination.
Dr. Justin Diedrich, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at University of California, Riverside, and a fellow with the advocacy group, Physicians for Reproductive Health hopes that doesn't happen. “It's really important to focus on the families who have been affected by the hurricane but also to keep in mind that the Zika outbreak continues to spread and continues to be a problem.”
He's worried we'll see a repeat of what happened in the weeks following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
There was a sharp increase in the number of cases of West Nile reported in Louisiana after the floods subsided. Despite evacuation efforts that led to a 28% decline in the population, the number of West Nile cases jumped from an average of 30 in 2005 to 45 in 2006. In affected parts of Mississippi, the number of reported cases climbed from an average of 23 in 2005 to 55 in 2006.
Unlike West Nile, Zika mostly affects birth defects in children born to women who became infected while pregnant. There are also cases of infections transmitted through sexual contact and mosquito bites. Still, the most devastating medical impact is the lifelong birth defects such as being born with abnormally small heads.
More than 830 pregnant U.S., women have tested positive for Zika virus as of Sept. 29, according to the CDC, which has resulted in 22 children born with birth defects and five pregnancy losses.
The states that were hit by Hurricane Matthew have also been using local funds to combat Zika as they waited for Congress to pass a $1 billion funding bill that helped state and local agencies control mosquito populations.
The vote came seven months after President Barack Obama first proposed allocating funds toward Zika. State and local health departments think it will be months before the federal funding trickles down to them.