(Bloomberg) — Summer weather may be warm enough to allow the mosquito carrying the Zika virus to spread as far north as New York and across the western United States to Los Angeles, according to a study by the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo.
Long-range forecasts call for a 40 percent to 45 percent chance that summer temperatures will be warmer than normal, allowing populations of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, blamed for spreading the virus in Latin America and the Caribbean, to expand their range, according to models run by NCAR and NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.
See also: Zika virus: What you need to know
“Even if the virus is transmitted here in the continental U.S., a quick response can reduce its impact,” Mary Hayden, co-author of the study and a medical anthropologist with NCAR, said in a statement.
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The Zika virus was found in Uganda in 1947 and has moved through the world’s tropical regions during the past 10 years, the researchers said. It reached Brazil last year and more than 20 countries now face pandemics.
For most people, the disease causes mild flu-like symptoms that clear up in about a week. “However, scientists are investigating whether contracting the disease during pregnancy can lead to microcephaly, a rare birth defect characterized by an abnormally small head and brain damage,” according to the statement.
In order to predict its spread, researchers used two models to simulate weather conditions and the mosquitoes’ life cycle across 50 cities in the United States, according to the paper, published Wednesday in PLOS Currents outbreaks.
The insects, known to thrive in urban areas, rely on warm temperatures and water-filled containers such as buckets, barrels and old tires in order to hatch their eggs. The research suggest conditions start to become favorable across the Southeastern U.S. and parts of Arizona in April. By June, all 50 cities in the study had the potential for being home to at least some mosquitoes, including St. Louis and Denver, where the insect hasn’t been detected yet, the study said.
Outside of southern Florida and southern Texas, most of the United States is too cold for the species in the winter, according to the researchers. A relative, the Aedes albopictus or tiger mosquito, can survive in colder climates and has spread the virus in other parts of the world, but there isn’t evidence of it doing so in the United States, said Andrew Monaghan, an NCAR scientist and lead author of the paper.