UA Researcher Maps Potential Risk Areas for Zika

With concern growing over a potential epidemic related to the Zika virus, a team of scientists with collaborators from the University of Arizona has defined high-risk areas in the United States. The team was led by scientist Andrew Monaghan of the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

Researcher Kacey Ernst, associate professor and infectious disease epidemiologist at the UA's Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, said the factors included in the assessment of the 50 jurisdictions were: the relative seasonal abundance of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes; travel from areas where Zika is currently transmitted; and poverty as an indicator of vector-human contact.

Ernst spoke before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology, Subcommittee on Research and Technology, in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.

The Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is spreading the Zika virus in Latin America and the Caribbean, is expected to increase in numbers across much of the Southern and Eastern U.S. as the weather warms, according to a recent study led by mosquito and disease experts at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the UA.

The study offers a best estimate of the potential range of mosquitoes that could transmit the Zika virus. This does not mean that all areas will be affected, nor does it mean all other areas are guaranteed safe. Mosquito monitoring and surveillance in the U.S. is not consistent across jurisdictions, Ernst said.

The study's results are a step toward providing information to the broader scientific and public health communities on the highest-risk areas for Zika emergence in the U.S., Ernst said. But more research is needed to determine the role of Aedes albopictus, which also is capable of transmitting the virus and has a broader geographic range but does not feed on humans as much as Aedes aegypti does.

Other gaps include the extrinsic incubation period of Zika virus and whether there is vertical transmission from infected Aedes aegypti females to their offspring, which might mean the virus could survive in eggs that would hatch the next year.

Video and a transcript of Ernst's testimony can be viewed here

Mosquito experts recommend removing standing water to help eliminate breeding grounds, in addition to these guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: wear insect repellant, cover up, and use screens on windows and doors to keep mosquitoes from entering.