Could a Tropical Weather System Help Spread the Zika Virus?

tropical storm and zika
Science & Medicine

A tropical wave in the Caribbean appeared to be morphing into a tropical storm this week, with the potential to slam into Florida. The chance of it turning into a storm or a hurricane has largely subsided, but the year’s hurricane season has only just begun, and many Floridians fear such tropical weather could help spread the Zika virus. [1]

When it comes to the impact of tropical weather on the spread of Zika, there are 2 main concerns: standing water, and high winds.

You might be surprised to find out that high winds concern health officials just as much as standing water when it comes to potential Zika transmission. But if you’re worried that Zika-carrying mosquitoes could be blown across the state and infect more people, don’t be. It would make a great movie plot, but it’s not the stuff of reality.

Christopher Bibbs of Anastasia Mosquito Control explained:

“In the event of high winds, they won’t blow away, but they’ll go low to the ground so they can escape the really strong part of the wind, and then go for refuge.”

Michael Bentley, staff entomologist for the National Pest Management Association, added:

“The number of mosquitoes that would survive being transported by a powerful weather system would be very, very low. The likelihood that any of those surviving mosquitoes would be infected with Zika would be even lower and extremely doubtful.” [2]

Read: 8 Natural Mosquito Repellents 

However, high winds could aid in spreading the Zika virus in other ways you may not have considered- such as by blowing off window and door screens, thereby giving mosquitoes easier access to homes. If the power got knocked out, the stifling Florida heat would surely lead many residents to open windows and doors to let cooler air in. [1]

So, what about all that extra water sitting around? Well, according to Jerome Goddard, an extension professor of medical entomology at Mississippi State University, the “nuisance” mosquitoes that live in flooded salt marshes don’t tend to spread disease.

He said:

“Lots of rain from a hurricane wouldn’t make much difference for Aedes aegypti, since they are so specialized in where they breed. They’re not going to breed out in the yard in a pool of water or in receding floodwaters.”

The mosquito species that specifically spreads Zika, the Aedes egypti, likes fresh water and the company of humans. These particular insects are more likely to lay eggs in man-made containers, such as bird baths, flower pots, and discarded tires.

The best way for residents to prevent this from happening is to simply make sure any stagnant water around their homes has been emptied. Mosquitoes only need about an inch of water to breed. [3]

Health officials and mosquito control officials have repeatedly asked residents to make sure they get rid of standing water on their property, but haven’t had the best response.

And there’s a 3rd danger. Inevitably, many of the resources that have been devoted to fighting Zika would have to be shifted to help clean up after a storm, restore power, and help displaced residents. This would leave public health staff with far less time to diagnose new cases and track the source of infections. [1]

Read: Miami Beach now the 2nd Site of Local Zika Virus Transmission in Florida

Patrick Wedlock, an infectious disease outbreak analyst at Ascel Bio, added:

“There are other aspects to consider in the event of a hurricane including increased outdoor exposure and crowding that may increase the risk of infection.” [2]

Wedlock stressed that in addition to being vigilant about getting rid of standing water, residents can help protect themselves by using insect repellent and wearing appropriate clothing.

So far, 46 mosquito-borne cases of the Zika viruses have been confirmed in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties. [1]


[1] USA Today

[2] Accuweather

[3] Action News JAX