Georgia is one of the 11 states in the continental United States that has been identified to house the Aedes aegypti mosquito species, the carriers of the dengue fever and chikungunya virus. This species is now capable of carrying the Zika virus.

Zika virus is associated with birth defects in newborn babies, leading to inadequate brain development, and poses the biggest threat to women of childbearing age. The sudden increase in microcephaly—a natal condition in which children are born with extremely small skulls—in areas affected with Zika has cultivated this speculation. These areas are currently being studied for any established connection between the virus and the defect.

“The U.S. mainland does have the Aedes species mosquitoes that could become infected with and spread Zika virus,” said Benjamin Haynes, spokesperson for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “But CDC is not able to predict how much Zika virus would spread in the continental United States.”

Even though there are no mosquito-transmitted cases reported in Georgia yet, it is only a matter of time before the local mosquitoes get infected through someone returning with Zika after travelling to an infected area. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than half of the global population lives in areas where the Aedes mosquito is present.

Aedes aegypti mosquito species is described as “opportunistic,” meaning that they are highly adaptable to the environment in which they are present. This mosquito species, which were long known to breed in water collected in tree holes and axils of plant leaves, have now adapted to breed and reproduce in highly urbanized areas with poor trash disposal systems.

These mosquito eggs are laid in water, specifically in any container or vessel where water is collected or rain is stored. However, the already laid eggs are known to survive in dry conditions for as long as a year and hatch as soon as they come in contact with water. Under cool temperatures, the mosquitoes can live as larvae for months until the water supply runs out.

Just like any other mosquito species, only the females bite. Even though both male and female mosquitoes feed on flower nectars and other sweet substances, the females need blood to develop their eggs, which is the reason they bite humans. The WHO reports female species practice “sneak attacks,” where they bite from the back or around ankles and elbows where they will not be easily noticed.

Following a feeding on blood, the females can produce a batch of up to 100 to 200 eggs. Unlike many other species of mosquitoes, the Aedes aegypti female mosquitoes are capable of producing up to five batches of eggs in her life span. In order to survive longer, the females lay their eggs in several different breeding grounds. Given these attributes, the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are harder to control and precautions should be taken to eliminate any possible breeding sites.

“Recent chikungunya and dengue outbreaks in the continental United States suggest that Zika outbreaks in the continental United States may be relatively small and focal,” said Haynes.

“As a result of imported cases, we may see some limited local transmission of Zika virus in some parts of the continental United States, similar to what occurred with chikungunya and dengue viruses,” said Haynes.