Quantifying the risk of local Zika virus transmission in the continental US during the 2015-2016 ZIKV epidemic

Kaiyuan Sun, Qian Zhang, Ana Pastore y Piontti, Matteo Chinazzi, Dina Mistry, Natalie E. Dean, Diana P. Rojas, Stefano Merler, Piero Poletti, Luca Rossi, M. Elizabeth Halloran, Ira M. Longini Jr., Alessandro Vespignani


April 11, 2018


Background: Local mosquito-borne Zika virus (ZIKV) transmission has been reported in two counties of the continental United State (US), prompting the issuance of travel, prevention, and testing guidance across the continental US. Large uncertainty, however, surrounds the quantification of the actual risk of ZIKV introduction and autochthonous transmission across different areas of the US. Method: We present a framework for the projection of ZIKV autochthonous transmission in the continental US during the 2015-2016 epidemic, using a data-driven stochastic and spatial epidemic model accounting for seasonal, environmental and detailed population data. The model generates an ensemble of travel-related case counts and simulate their potential to trigger local transmission at individual level. Results: We estimate the risk of ZIKV introduction and local transmission at the county level and at the 0.025 degree by 0.025 degree cell level across the continental US. We provide a risk measure based on the probability of observing local transmission in a specific location during a ZIKV epidemic modeled after the one observed during the years 2015-2016. The high spatial and temporal resolutions of the model allow us to generate statistical estimates of the number of ZIKV introductions leading to local transmission in each location. We find that the risk is spatially heterogeneously distributed and concentrated in a few specific areas that account for less than 1% of the continental US population. Locations in Texas and Florida that have actually experienced local ZIKV transmission are among the places at highest risk according to our results. We also provide an analysis of the key determinants for local transmission, and identify the key introduction routes and their contributions to ZIKV spread in the continental US. Conclusions: This framework provides quantitative risk estimates, fully captures the stochasticity of ZIKV introduction events, and is not biased by the under-ascertainment of cases due to asymptomatic infections. It provides general information on key risk determinants and data with potential uses in defining public health recommendations and guidance about ZIKV risk in the US.