Mapping the Zika Virus (and the Problems with Doing So)

Maps about the Zika virus have been cropping up lately. I’ve been reluctant to post them, initially because I didn’t want to play a role in whipping up unnecessary panic, but also because—the more I looked at them—many of the maps are problematic in and of themselves.

Some, like this CDC map of countries with active Zika virus transmission, lack useful detail. Or if they have detail, it’s not at all helpful: The Economist’s map shows the local risk of transmission and the number of travellers from Brazil; this map aggregates news stories about the virus and overlays the predicted distribution—predicted, mind—of two mosquito species. Neither map says anything about the spread of the virus itself; both could do a great job of scaring the crap out of anyone who gives either map a casual look. Finally, like these Scientific American maps, they can be extremely U.S.-centric, suggesting that the virus is only a problem insofar as it affects us. [via]

Update, 4 February: Direct Relief’s Zika virus maps, some of which taken from the above, share the problem of indirectness but lose the U.S.-centricity. [via]