MSU leads Zika-related mosquito research

Published: Jul. 7, 2016 at 7:09 PM CDT
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The 8th and 9th cases of Zika virus have been confirmed in Missouri.

State health officials say one woman had traveled to Jamaica, and the other to Haiti. Neither is pregnant.

Now a professor at Missouri State University is leading research into mosquitoes that could spread the disease.

KY3 visited the lab on the MSU campus to see how the study might help us battle Zika in the Ozarks.

Missouri has 9 confirmed cases of Zika in travelers, but are mosquitoes spreading it here yet?

MSU professor Dr. David Claborn is just 5 weeks into a kind of Missouri mosquito census.

"As far as we know the virus does not occur in the mosquito population in Missouri. What we're trying to do, however, is to identify what is here, where it occurs, and in what numbers," Claborn says.

The Missouri Department of Health is paying for the study, to prepare for battle against Zika and other diseases.

"It's still pretty early in our knowledge of Zika and so we really don't know what mosquitoes can transmit it," says Claborn.

Claborn's team collects mosquitoes from around the state. Tens of thousands are frozen to death, examined, and catalogued. It's painstaking work.

"There's a few dozen different mosquitoes that occur here and many of them can not serve as vectors of any human diseases. Many of them don't even feed on humans," Claborn says.

The only mosquito species proven to transmit Zika is the yellow fever mosquito. It used to be common in Missouri, but Claborn hasn't found any so far this summer.

There are other species that may also spread Zika.

"There's another one called the Asian Tiger Mosquito that some people fear may be a vector," Claborn says. It's the most common mosquito Dr. Claborn is finding.

"Very easy to identify cause of this bright white stripe down the center of it," says Claborn, "You can actually identify this while it's feeding on your hand."

Although Missouri mosquitoes aren't spreading Zika now, if that changes, this study will help Missouri focus a battle against any species that become dangerous.

"Many of these mosquitoes that have really adapted to living near humans don't fly very far from where they emerged as adults, maybe a few hundred feet. So if you clean up your area, you actually impact your chances of being exposed quite a bit," says Claborn.