Open Data Highlights Post-Harvey Mosquito Health and Safety Threat

Jonathan Jay | Government Technology | September 5, 2017

Though the rains brought on by Hurricane Harvey have subsided, mosquitoes now pose a very real risk to health and safety in southeastern Texas.

Cities in southeastern Texas finally saw dry weather on Wednesday, after days of unprecedented rainfall from Hurricane Harvey. But while floodwaters started receding from many Houston neighborhoods, explosions at a Crosby chemical plant and Beaumont’s lost water supply showed how vulnerable the area remains to health and safety threats.

Among these post-Harvey issues, storm-related flooding could increase risk for diseases spread by mosquitoes, which breed in standing water. Key mosquito-borne diseases include West Nile Virus, already a significant health problem in the Gulf Coast region, Zika, and the closely-related dengue virus, which has circulated in the Houston area as recently as 2005.

Yet, as tropical disease expert Peter Hotez told The Atlantic, “the impact of floods on mosquito-borne viruses is still understudied.” As news outlets like Newsweek and The Guardian reported on the threat, I consulted open data sources to investigate the risk. I found that mosquitoes will proliferate within a week or two, likely after a steep drop in their abundance, and that the several weeks remaining in mosquito season represents a dangerous period for disease transmission...