CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO (KFVS) - Researchers at Saint Louis University are working to predict Zika hot spots in the United States.
The SLU researchers' findings indicate that St. Louis, the Metro East and several counties in the Heartland are at high risk for Zika transmission.
In a study published in an online article in the American Journal of Public Health, SLU researchers put the bulls-eye of Zika transmission on the Mississippi Delta.
According to SLU's Zika transmission map, Jackson, Alexander, Pulaski and Pope Counties in southern Illinois are considered high risk.
In southeast Missouri, Cape Girardeau, Scott, New Madrid, Pemiscot and Butler Counties made SLU's high-risk list.
In Kentucky, McCracken, Fulton and Calloway Counties are also considered to be at high risk.
Researchers mapped out Zika's two routes of transmission: mosquito bites and sexual transmission.
"What is the sexual transmission risk? What does that look like? So, we modeled that based on what we know about sexually transmitted disease data and the predictors of where it happens," said Enbal Shacham, Ph.D., M.Ed., associate professor of behavioral sciences and health education at Saint Louis University and the lead author of the study.
Shacham and her collaborators studied 3,108 counties in the U.S. They determined 507 "high risk" areas for Zika transmission based on several factors: the presence of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes; high rates of sexually transmitted infections, which is an established surrogate marker for unprotected sex; number of women of child-bearing age; and an estimate of birth rates for each county.
Researchers say the goal of the study is not to cause panic, but to Identifying areas with higher transmission risk so communities and residents can take action to protect themselves.
"We need significant planning and prevention in areas and populations most likely to experience the highest burdens from Zika infection," said Shacham. "Timely strategies to communicate risk, control mosquito populations, and prevent disease transmission are imperative to preventing a large-scale Zika epidemic in the United States."
Zika can cause severe birth defects. People can be infected with Zika without showing symptoms.
"Our results also show that complications from the Zika virus are likely to overlap with impoverished counties with large minority populations where resources are more likely to be scarce to combat a large-scale Zika virus outbreak," Shacham said.
Shacham suggested developing intensive interventions to prevent infection as well as treatment and care plans for families with affected newborns in higher risk areas.
You can read more about the study here.