IF I were a pregnant woman living on the Gulf Coast or in Florida, in an impoverished neighborhood in a city like Houston, New Orleans, Miami, Biloxi, Miss., or Mobile, Ala., I would be nervous right now. If mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus reach the United States later this spring or summer, these are the major urban areas where the sickness will spread.
If we don’t intervene now, we could begin seeing newborns with microcephaly and stunted brain development on the obstetrics wards in one or more of these places.
In crowded places, mosquitoes have lots of access to lots of people. Poor people often live in proximity to garbage, including old tires, plastic containers and drainage ditches filled with stagnant water, where this species of mosquito lives and breeds. And they often have homes with torn screens on their windows. The combination creates ideal conditions for the Zika virus to spread.
The same factors are present in the poorest urban areas of coastal Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, in addition to South Florida, and an area around Tucson. In the Fifth Ward of Houston (a historically African-American neighborhood that was populated by freed slaves after the Civil War), just a few miles from the medical center where I work, there is an astonishing level of extreme poverty. A brief tour reveals water-filled drainage ditches in place of gutters, as well as evidence of dumping — a common practice in which people toss old tires and other garbage into residential areas rather than designated landfill sites — right next to shabby and crumbling housing.