Mosquito Control District Executive Director Andrea Leal said is exploring new ways to suppress Aedes aegypti mosquito populations because conventional methods are costly and labor-intensive. So, Smartt set her sights on tracking down Zika-infected mosquitoes in Camacari, Brazil, near the Atlantic coast.
Florida has not had any locally transmitted cases of Zika so far in 2017.
Smartt and her colleagues collected mosquitoes in Brazil and hatched the eggs.
The first US trial of genetically modified Aedes aegypti mosquitoes - the kind that carries Zika and dengue fever - is still on track for the Keys, just not on Key Haven. Commonly found throughout the world, the Asian tiger mosquito "has a wide range of hosts and has adapted to colder climates", notes Smartt. The team collected 20 female and 19 male Aedes albopictus mosquito eggs and raised them to adulthood.
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"Our results mean that Aedes albopictus may have a role in Zika virus transmission and should be of concern to public health", Smartt said in a news release from the Entomological Society of America.
Citing recent studies that found seizures and epilepsy reported in some infants exposed to Zika while in the womb, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that cases of epilepsy caused by the virus may be misdiagnosed or under reported. Several of the males tested positive for Zika RNA, but not for the live virus.
This fuels the worries that Ae. albopictus could help spread the Zika virus as mosquito season hits temperate regions worldwide.
"There is a need to investigate the role of Ae. albopictus in the Zika infection process in Brazil and to study the potential presence of vertical and sexual transmission of Zika in this species", the study authors wrote in their paper. These findings also underline the reason why insect scientists and medical researchers need to be extremely cautious while carrying out studies on mosquitoes. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state's agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents.