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Zika: Where and When Will Zika-Carrying Mosquitoes Strike Next?

Zika, the virus that is rapidly spreading through South and Central America and the Caribbean, have ientifed three places in Ecuador where it might strike next.

Zika is transmitted by Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that carry dengue and chikungunya viruses, and that were historically responsible for yellow fever. Zika may be linked with birth defects such as microcephaly, and with the neurological disorder Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

US Scientists working under a program funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases (EEID) have zeroed in on these three places. The three Ecuador towns identified are — Machala, Huaquillas, and Portovuelo/Zaruma — which vary in climate, elevation and socioeconomic conditions, and in their amount of mosquito-borne disease making themprone to Zika, said researchers.

Since 2007, 39 countries have reported cases of Zika, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

A group of researchers led by Mordecai is studying the socio-ecology and climate responses of dengue and Zika virus transmission by catching Aedes aegypti mosquitoes at three sites in southern coastal Ecuador.

“The research has the potential to provide basic knowledge that will help control all mosquito-borne pathogens, while also being extremely timely,” said Sam Scheiner, NSF EEID program director. “Diseases like Zika virus are likely to continue. This project will help us find ways to get a handle on future such outbreaks.”

Ecuador is one of 26 countries in the Americas that has reported active Zika virus transmission, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In recent studies, Machala had the highest abundance of Aedes aegypti larvae of all sites surveyed in 10 countries in Latin America and Asia. Based on their findings, the biologists are developing mathematical models to discover how disease transmission by Aedes aegypti responds to temperature, important for predicting future changes in virus transmission under climate change.

“Mosquitoes are tiny and cold-blooded, so their growth, development, and survival depends upon the temperature around them,” she says. “Disease transmission is a complex process. It’s important to understand how mosquitoes and the viruses they carry respond to temperature, to know when and where virus transmission will increase as Earth warms.”

Scientists working with samples in a lab
Scientists are studying transmission of the Zika virus in three towns in Ecuador.

Credit: SUNY Upstate Medical University

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An Aedes aegypti mosquito
An Aedes aegypti mosquito, carrier of the Zika virus in South and Central America.

Credit: NIH

Two women looking at water accumulated in a plastic barrel in a household
Zika-carrying mosquitoes often breed in small pools of water in buckets, flower pots and the like.

Credit: SUNY Upstate Medical University

Biologist working to catch mousquitos inside a building in Ecuador
Biologists working in Ecuador are catching mosquitoes to identify the viruses they carry.

Credit: SUNY Upstate Medical University

Researcher using a vacuum to trap mosquitoes in a bathroom
Vacuums mounted on backpacks help scientists trap mosquitoes for further study.

Credit: SUNY Upstate Medical University

Infectious disease researcher working in a lab
Infectious disease researchers hope to halt viruses such as Zika by studying environmental factors.

Credit: SUNY Upstate Medical University

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