The response to the Zika outbreak of 2016 focused on one type of mosquito, the urban-dwelling Aedes aegypti. Now comes the disturbing news that a second type of mosquito common in Florida, the Aedes albopictus, also can carry Zika.
Chelsea Smartt, a molecular biologist at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences in Vero Beach, has found Zika RNA in Aedes albopictus mosquitoes in Brazil.
Smartt and her researchers collected 20 female and 19 male Aedes albopictus mosquitoes as eggs, raised them to adults and tested the adults for the Zika virus RNA. Five tested positive for Zika RNA, Smartt said.
“These results are important because they are the first to show that Aedes albopictus can be infected with Zika virus RNA,” Smartt said in a UF news release.
Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes abound in Florida, throughout most of the Southeast and in all the states along the southern border of the U.S., according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The role of Aedes albopictus in transmitting Zika remains a mystery.
In its latest guidance about Zika, the CDC downplays the threat posed by Aedes albopictus.
“Because these mosquitoes feed on animals as well as people, they are less likely to spread viruses like Zika, dengue, chikungunya and other viruses,” the agency says.
Smartt’s research was published last week in the Journal of Medical Entomology.
State and federal officials said in December that Zika no longer was being actively transmitted in Florida. But public health officials say Zika is likely to return with summer rains.
Zika is thought to be harmless to most people who are infected, but it can cause severe birth defects in unborn babies. There is no vaccine for Zika, leaving public health officials to urge Floridians to use mosquito spray, wear long clothes and remove standing water from outdoor containers.
UPDATE: Public health officials say they aren’t shocked by the findings.
“We’ve always thought that was a possibility,” said Tim O’Connor, spokesman for the state Department of Health’s Palm Beach County unit.
The latest research won’t affect the health district’s prevention efforts.
“The main prevention is avoiding mosquito bites,” O’Connor said. “Regardless of whether it’s an aegypti or an albopictus, the solution is the same.”