UA receives grant for Zika virus research

Published: May. 23, 2016 at 12:30 AM MST|Updated: Mar. 2, 2018 at 4:12 PM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - As Arizona health officials confirmed two more cases of the Zika virus in Arizona, a local push is underway to better understand the virus.

The National Science Foundation just awarded the University of Arizona with a $200,000 Rapid Response gr ant that aims to help predict outbreaks.

The Centers for Disease Control said there are now 157 pregnant women infected with Zika in the U.S.

"There's so much not known about this virus and we really don't have a good handle on how easily it will spread," said Dr. Michael Riehle, Professor of Entomology at the U of A.

Riehle said there are two critical gaps in our knowledge of Zika. The first is the incubation of Zika within a mosquito.  With the gr ant his team will investigate how environmental temperature and weather affect the amount of time it takes for the mosquito to become infectious.

"Generally the warmer it is the more quickly the virus will move through the mosquito. Knowing this will allow us to model the likelihood of the disease
occurring in any given area," Riehle said.

The second is transmission.  Riehle and his team want to determine whether or not the female mosquito can transmit Zika directly to her eggs.  If so, Riehle said the virus could stay dormant in the eggs during the dry season, and when they hatch in monsoon, they'd already have the virus.

"Then the concern is the virus doesn't need to be reintroduced each year because the eggs are already pre-infected. So once they emerge,
the transmission cycle to humans can pick up again," Riehle said.

U of A researchers are confident they'll be able to have those two questions answered within the year time frame of the gr ant.  With those questions answered, health experts hope to better understand the spread of the Zika virus. The U of A currently has stocks of the Zika virus and in just a few weeks they will feed it to the mosquitoes. 

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