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Gulf Coast Zika epidemic with 1% attack rate would cost $1.2 billion

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May 16, 2017

Researchers estimated recently that a Zika virus epidemic on the U.S. Gulf Coast would cost $1.2 billion if the attack rate hit 1%.

Even an attack rate of 0.01% would have a vast economic impact of more than $183 million, including $117.1 million in direct medical costs and $66.3 million in productivity losses, according to a computational model developed by Bruce Y. Lee, MD, associate professor of international health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and colleagues.

“As we aimed to be conservative in our estimations, our model in many ways may underestimate the economic burden of Zika,” Lee and colleagues wrote in PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases.

Last year, in the midst of an epidemic that revealed Zika’s ability to cause serious birth defects, President Barack Obama requested $1.9 billion to fund the country’s response. After a months-long stalemate, the U.S. Senate approved $1.1 billion in Zika funding as part of a stopgap bill to keep the federal government running.

In between Obama’s request and the Senate’s eventual approval of a smaller funding package, many experts bemoaned lawmakers as unable to overcome their political differences to work to protect the country from a serious infectious disease threat, especially during the Senate’s 7-week summer recess.

Peter J. Hotez

In a perspective written for Infectious Disease News, Peter J. Hotez, MD, PhD, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital Endowed Chair in Tropical Pediatrics, said Congress was unable to organize itself to protect pregnant women.

“This is part of an ongoing series of disappointments coming out of Washington,” Hotez, who is co-author on the PLoS study, wrote.

Lee, Hotez and colleagues said both sides of the Zika funding debate last year lacked enough data on which to build their arguments. For their study, they developed an economic model to estimate Zika-related costs in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas for an epidemic lasting 230 days — a duration that was based on the outbreak of Zika-related microcephaly in Northeast Brazil. Florida and Texas are the only two U.S. states where people have gotten Zika from an infected mosquito.

They based their estimates on calculations of costs associated with clinical outcomes, medical and Medicaid costs and productivity losses. Importantly, because the economic impact of microcephaly is not well studied, the researchers substituted estimates for autism, which they said are likely to be lower.


According to their estimates, the economic impact of $1.2 billion for an attack rate of just 1% — far lower than attack rates observed for Zika outbreaks in French Polynesia and Micronesia — would include $268 million in in direct medical costs and $919.2 million in productivity losses.

“Given the tremendous uncertainty surrounding potential attack rates for Zika in the U.S., our model and study demonstrated how various outcomes and costs would vary based on attack rate and other circumstances,” the researchers wrote. “Without details regarding the Zika-prevention measures that would be implemented and how effective these may be, it is unclear what percentage of these costs may be averted.” – by Gerard Gallagher

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.