A few days ago, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was saying that public health authorities knew about four homegrown, mosquito-spread Zika infections.
Today, the number jumped to 14.
In Puerto Rico, meanwhile, public health officials are saying that about 5 percent of the healthy-looking pregnant women who get tested for Zika seem to have recently had Zika.
Of course, viruses do strange things. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. But, if future performance is a bit like past results, then I think what these numbers might mean is that roughly one out of every 100 babies born in Puerto Rico when the outbreak is at its worst could come to life already needing a lifetime of costly medical and long-term care services.
Chances are the numbers will soon look like that in most parts of the country that are hospitable to mosquitoes carrying Zika. Colorado, for example, seems to be outside the region, but the CDC Zika map shows that my office in New York City is in the Zika region.
Something like a few dozen to a few hundred adults could end up getting Guillain Barre Syndrome, a condition that causes paralysis.
Think about all of the cost-shifting that could soon be going on in pediatric wards and at the programs paying for care for the people with Guillain Barre Syndrome.
A few weeks ago, members of Congress couldn’t even function well enough to pass a clean Zika fight funding bill.
Now we actually have Zika spreading person to person in the mainland United States, and I don’t see any huge symbolic push, let alone an effective push, to get us all to go into our backyards and eliminate stagnant water there or even put a good window screen in every window.
If Zika blows over, we’ll be fine.
But if Zika spreads throughout the CDC Zika map area the way it has in Puerto Rico, then the only rational response will be to look at what bums we’ve been and shake our heads at our foolish past selves. We put more effort every year into taping fake cobwebs to our doors for Halloween than we invested in controlling the Zika mosquitoes.