Although the Zika virus is spreading, even into Florida, it does not appear to have been transmitted from mosquito to person or person to person in Florida. But that could happen any time, University of Florida scientists say. Thus, they urge everyone to stay alert.
"We should remain vigilant and informed," said Jorge Rey, entomology professor and interim director of the Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory (FMEL) in Vero Beach, Florida, part of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
Public concerns about Zika triggered UF/IFAS scientists to write a new Extension document to explain the virus.
Additionally, scientists at the FMEL are applying for research funding to work on the Zika virus, Rey said.
"The geographic expansion of Zika virus and associated epidemics in the Pacific region and the Americas have stimulated new research plans at the FMEL to improve our understanding of Zika virus and reduce risk of transmission," he said. "We have submitted a request to the European Virus Archive to obtain the Asian lineage of Zika virus circulating in the Americas. Faculty at the FMEL are collaborating with other universities and organizations to improve our understanding of host-vector-Zika virus interactions and develop new diagnostic tools for the detection of this virus. We are applying for funding to the National Institutes of Health."
Rey co-authored the new paper for the UF/IFAS Electronic Data Information Source (EDIS) in which UF/IFAS faculty members outline the origins of the Zika virus, how it is transmitted and what we can do to prevent it. Six other FMEL faculty members helped write the Zika paper.
FMEL scientists do not yet know how well Aedes aegypti -- the Yellow Fever mosquito -- and Aedes albopictus -- the Asian tiger mosquito -- transmit the Zika virus to humans. But they've spent many years studying the mosquito species and how they deliver other viruses, namely chikungunya and dengue, Rey said.
UF/IFAS scientists want you to know that there are no vaccines yet to protect you against Zika. Vaccines approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are not likely to be available for several years, according to the paper. Thus, protecting yourself from mosquito bites is your best prevention method. For example, use mosquito repellents and protective clothing. Also, avoid areas where mosquitoes are abundant.
UF/IFAS scientists at the Vero Beach lab are already busy with an extensive research program on the mosquito species that transmit Zika, Rey said. Those include ecology and invasion biology, mosquito-virus interactions and developing new control strategies and tools to detect dengue and chikungunya viruses. This research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
County Extension faculty across Florida participated in a webinar this week to learn all the latest information about Zika, so they can answer your questions about the virus and how it's spread.
Meanwhile, state mosquito control agencies and the Florida Department of Health monitor local areas for diseases and for these mosquito species. Additionally, the FMEL regularly conducts research on testing and monitoring techniques to try to improve the relevant technologies, Rey said.
Materials provided by University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Original written by Brad Buck. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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