Penn State

Penn State researcher hopes to gain ground on Zika

Penn State researcher Jason Rasgon is utilizing a National Institutes of Health grant to see if American mosquitoes present the same danger as the two foreign breeds known to carry the virus.
Penn State researcher Jason Rasgon is utilizing a National Institutes of Health grant to see if American mosquitoes present the same danger as the two foreign breeds known to carry the virus. The Associated Press

For months, the information has bounced back and forth.

Zika virus is coming! Zika virus is overrated. Zika virus is dangerous! We’re in Pennsylvania, relax.

On Monday, Zika had a big day, with news both nationally and in Pennsylvania.

On the national front, it wasn’t great.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta reacted to recent news that the Zika virus, a tropical mosquito-borne disease that has been creating problems throughout South America and the Caribbean with its easy transmission in the hot, moist climates, and its profound effect on a very specific population. Zika is easily overcome, except when the person who contracts it is a pregnant woman. The disease is known to cause microcephaly, a birth defect affecting the development of a baby’s brain.

At the end of July, new cases were traced to Florida.

“New assessments of mosquito populations and test results this past weekend by Florida public health officials, as part of a community survey in the Miami neighborhood where several Zika infections were recently confirmed, have found persistent mosquito populations and additional Zika infections in the same area. This information suggests that there is a risk of continued active transmission of Zika virus in that area,” the CDC said in a statement.

That’s why pregnant women are being advised not to travel to Miami.

Men and women traveling to the area are also being advised not to attempt to get pregnant for up to six months after showing symptoms of the disease, to use condoms or other barriers and to take additional precautions, and to get tested for the illness.

The news in Centre County is less about the bad news and more about solutions.

A Penn State researcher is working to see if American mosquitoes present the same danger as the two foreign breeds known to carry the virus.

According to a release from the university, the National Institutes of Health has given a grant to associate professor of entomology and disease epidemiology Jason Rasgon.

Rasgon has two years and $432,000 to look for answers. His project is one of just two such proposals the NIH is funding.

“Many of the mosquito vectors we are investigating are found in Pennsylvania,” Rasgon said. “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 albopictusas, 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.”

Pennsylvania isn’t a stranger to mosquito-spread diseases. The state invests millions into fighting West Nile virus every year. In 2016, Centre County is one of the 25 counties that have had a positive West Nile test.

Albert Lavan, of Centre County’s West Nile virus program, said earlier this year that one unknown with the Zika virus is whether indigenous mosquitoes could become vectors.

But that doesn’t mean that Pennsylvanians need to be too concerned.

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

Lori Falce: 814-235-3910, @LoriFalce

More Zika cases confirmed in Pa.

Authorities have confirmed 61 Zika cases in Pennsylvania since early this year, up from 51 as of last week, state health officials announced today.

The Allegheny County Health Department has reported seven cases, up from six a week ago.

All the Zika cases in Pennsylvania are linked to travel in outbreak-stricken areas abroad, according to the state. Health experts anticipated that the region’s case volumes could climb during the summer travel season.

Bites of certain mosquitoes can transmit the virus, which also may spread through sexual contact and blood transfusions. No Zika-infected mosquitoes have been reported in most of the continental United States, including Pennsylvania. Health authorities in Florida are investigating 14 cases that likely stemmed from mosquito bites in Miami.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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