Penn State researcher awarded grant to study Zika transmission in United States

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Zika virus is appearing more frequently in the United States, including a locally transmitted outbreak in Florida, and people are concerned. Now the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded a Penn State researcher a grant to test whether common American mosquitoes can carry the virus.

Currently, the U.S. medical community is aware of Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, two non-native mosquito species that can transmit the virus. The NIH has awarded a two-year grant of $432,000 to Associate Professor of Entomology and Disease Epidemiology Jason Rasgon, who with his research team will start testing additional mosquitoes that are native to the U.S. for their ability to transmit Zika. This grant is one of only two proposals currently funded under the NIH Rapid Assessment of Zika Virus Complications request for applications.

“Many of the mosquito vectors we are investigating are found in Pennsylvania,” said Rasgon. “Results from our research will allow the state to target their control efforts effectively, as different mosquito species have different biologies and must be controlled by different methods. For example, at the moment, Pennsylvania is worried about Aedes albopictus as a potential Zika vector in some parts of the state. However, the distribution of albopictus is fairly restricted in Pennsylvania. If our research indicates that Culex (for example) is a potential vector, then Zika control efforts need to be dramatically expanded and different methods used.”

Rasgon’s research will lay the foundation to study the interaction of Zika virus in native mosquito hosts, work that is of particular importance now that Zika virus is being locally transmitted in the continental U.S. However, he said that Pennsylvanians should not panic over news reports about Zika.

“Ultimately, the results of our research will make the people of Pennsylvania safer,” said Rasgon.

Last Updated August 19, 2016