As of March 14, 25 cases of Zika have been reported in Canada. But these have all been travel-related. They are imports. Canadians have travelled somewhere else in the world, somewhere warmer, gotten infected, then been diagnosed upon their return to Canada.
So far, no case of Zika has been contracted in Canada. But some people wonder if that might change.
At first blush, this question seemed silly, especially when asked in the middle of a cold Canadian winter. But winter is receding and some people in Hamilton who know what they are talking about are asking that very question.
Could Zika come to Canada?
Tropical diseases are "tropical" because they spread only or primarily in the tropics. But we do not know to what extent this is due to how the virus is affected by climate or how the host (the mosquito, in this case) is affected by climate.
For now, the best thing is not to panic. We are learning about Zika, and part of that learning has to focus on protecting Canadians.
There are 3,549 known species of mosquitoes. The one that typically carries the Zika virus is Aedes aegypti. Its range is in the tropics, so it does not wander north to Canada. Nothing to worry about, right?
Although at this point the chances of a Zika epidemic in Canada seem remote, there are six reasons why we need to remain vigilant.
Canadian mosquitoes could bite infected travellers.
Imagine this scenario: a Canadian gets infected with Zika in Mexico or the Caribbean. He returns to Canada, where he is bitten by a few Canadian mosquitoes. Those mosquitoes are now infected. Each of those mosquitoes goes on to bite several other people, infecting them with the virus.
Fact or fantasy? The truth is, we do not know. That's why the scientists in Hamilton are testing Canadian mosquitoes to determine if they could become carriers.
The range of Aedes aegypti could broaden.
Although the current range of Aedes aegypti is contained to the tropics, it has plenty of room to spread further north within "predicted habitats." Florida and Texas are highly suitable, and much of the southern U.S. is moderately suitable.
A broader range would bring Zika closer to Canada and more Canadian travellers would be visiting Zika zones.
Aedes albopictus is even closer.
There is a second species of mosquito that is known to carry Zika: Aedes albopictus. Predicted habitats for this species include most of the eastern United States right up to Connecticut and Massachusetts. That could put Zika in our backyard and expose many more Canadian travellers to the virus.
Other species could also be infected and pass on Zika to humans.
Another species has been identified as a potential carrier: Culex quinquefasciatus. This species is 20 times more common than Aedes aegypti. At this time, we know that this species can be infected, but we have no idea if it can transmit the infection to humans.
With 3,549 species to test, now might be a good time to direct your children to a career in micro-biology.
The virus might adapt.
In the movie Jurassic Park, Ian Malcolm famously said that "Life will find a way." Viruses seek to spread, and they often mutate very quickly to do so.
If the virus recognizes the benefits of making itself adaptable to a variety of similar hosts, who knows how many mosquito species it could infect?
If the virus recognizes the benefits of making itself adaptable to a variety of climates, who knows how far north and south it could spread?
In his thriller novel The Third Pandemic, Pierre Ouellette tells of how two viruses meet up inside a bird in a remote corner of Africa, mutate and become deadly, before spreading through air travel to all corners of the world. In fiction, the author always creates the perfect storm; in the real world, it could happen, too.
Mosquitoes might adapt.
It's hard to imagine Aedes aegypti in the streets of Montreal. But no harder than imagining bananas, pineapples and mangoes on sale at the Atwater Market -- in winter! In fact, Aedes aegypti has been found in Washington, DC, having wintered in sewers.
Mosquitoes are on the move, expanding their territories and hopping continents. Thanks to increased human travel and goods shipments around the world, mankind is spreading mosquitoes everywhere. When they can survive a change of climate or adapt to a new climate, they bring the risk of new diseases with them.
The worry is that diseases like Zika, Yellow Fever, Dengue and Chikungunya could spread with their hosts to previously safe areas, such as Canada.
The climate might adapt.
If the mosquitoes and the Zika don't adapt, Canada's climate might adapt. If climate change raises Canada's temperature by a couple degrees, we open the doors to all sorts of new invasive life forms.
Predicting the future is always hard. But it is even harder when you don't know the present. Zika has flown under the radar for some time, and the truth is that there is so much about it that we just do not know. Much as nobody wants to hear this, we will have to be patient a little while longer.
For now, the best thing is not to panic. We are learning about Zika, and part of that learning has to focus on protecting Canadians in the event that any of the scenarios above begins to look probable.
Follow HuffPost Canada Blogs on Facebook
MORE ON HUFFPOST:
Invest in some insect-repellent clothing that's also travel-friendly. Ex-Officio's Bugsaway line has pants, shorts, dresses and sweatshirts for men and women that are all treated with insect-shield technology to repel mosquitoes and other bugs. Plus, the travel-friendly fabrics are lightweight, wrinkle-resistant, and quick drying. Another option is White Sierra's Bug Free line, which lives up to its name with clothes that offer protection from insects (and the sun—thanks to a UPF fabric shield) for 70 washes. (Photo: Amazon.com)
If you don't want to invest in a whole new wardrobe of insect-repellent clothing, treat what you already have with permethrin spray, a bug-repellent designed to be used on clothing and shoes (not skin!) that lasts through multiple washings. This spray from Sawyer Products is effective against mosquitoes, ticks, mites, and other bugs for six washings or six weeks, and it's as effective as 100 percent DEET. It's odorless after drying and won't stain or damage your clothing, so you can still wear them again after your trip. (Photo: Amazon.com)
The more covered your skin is, the harder it is for mosquitos to feast on you. Of course, it's likely to warm where the bugs are, which makes wearing long shirts and pants unappealing. Pack lightweight, light-colored clothing like these travel-friendly long-sleeve shirts, which can actually help you stay cooler than short sleeves thanks to their moisture-wicking properties. Bonus: Shirts and pants made from UPF fabric will also protect you from harmful UV rays. We like these pants from Coolibar, specifically designed to be worn in hot and sunny environments. (Photo: Amazon.com)
The CDC recommends that you "sleep under a mosquito bed net if you are overseas or outside and are not able to protect yourself from mosquito bites." Just because you're staying in a hotel room doesn't mean that mosquitos can't get in—whether it's via a hole in your window screen or just by flying in after you when you enter. This one from Emergency Zone is great for travel, as it just needs a single rope to hang from and folds into a small and lightweight nylon bag. (Photo: Amazon.com)
Not all bug sprays are created equally. Only some ingredients are actually scientifically proven to repel bugs. Check to see if your insect spray meets the requirements with this search tool from the EPA. One option is Repel 100, a spray with super concentrated DEET (98.11 percent) for heavy-duty bug conditions. The 1 oz. is perfect for travel and it protects for up to 10 hours, so you don't need a ton. For a more natural solution, look for products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus (which is one of the only non-chemical repellents recommended by the CDC), such as this travel-sized OFF! Botanicals lotion. (Photo: Amazon.com)
You might look at the picture of this mosquito head net and scoff, thinking that you'd never be caught dead wearing one, but you might chance your mind if your destination is swarming with bugs. Small and lightweight, the Sea to Summit mosquito head net is made from a fine black mesh (which is easy to see through) and comes with its own small stuff sack for easy packing. (Photo: Amazon.com)
If you're flying carry-on only and don't want to worry about fitting your bug sprays in your 3-1-1 bag, insect repellent bands and wipes are a great alternative. For wipes, this 15 pack of Cutter All Family Mosquito Repellent is super affordable and contains DEET, so you'll be protected without spending tons of money. An alternative is the Mosquito Repellent bracelet, which is waterproof, non-toxic, and lasts for up to 200 hours. Read the original story: What to Pack if You're Traveling to a Zika Virus Zone by Caroline Morse, who is a regular contributor to SmarterTravel. Some review products are sent to us free of charge and with no incentive to offer a favorable review. We offer our unbiased opinions, positive and negative, and will never accept compensation to review a product. (Photo: Amazon.com)
Follow David Leonhardt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/amabaie