USF mosquito research is hoping to move away from Malaria research to look at a new disease: Zika. With the equipment already in place and a colony of mosquitoes ready for studies, the main holdup is getting funding to staff a team.
There are two labs on campus that have been doing mosquito related disease research with a main focus on Malaria, West Nile and Eastern Equine Encephalitis viruses.
“Eastern is a rare virus but we have more of it here in Florida than anywhere else, and it’s not one that you want to get,” Thomas Unnasch, USF Health administrator and researcher, said. “Zika, you get sick for a few days. Eastern Equine, you die and if you don’t die then you wish you did because you end up severely incapacitated. We get three or four cases a year, but those who do get it are either dead or paralyzed in a wheelchair for life.”
He said one of the studies being conducted now on Eastern Equine could be adapted for Zika research. The study looks at how susceptible groups of mosquitoes from different areas are to carrying the virus. By conducting a similar study, the same information could be found for Zika.
Despite only receiving small amounts of funding for Zika related research, USF scientists do have a few small projects in the works related to preventing the spread of Zika. One such project involves working to educate people about standing water, a breeding ground for mosquitoes, to see if raising awareness leads to less free standing water around houses of those who are informed of the risks.
The labs already have a colony of aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which are responsible for transmitting the Zika virus. However, according to Unnasch, the majority of Zika funding is going toward making a vaccine, which would take several years to go through testing and get approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.