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USA researchers screen mosquitoes

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The University of South Alabama College of Medicine recently partnered with the Mobile County Health Department (MCHD) to screen mosquitoes and determine the presence of mosquito-borne viruses in the community.

With more than 50 species of mosquitoes in Mobile County, MCHD’s Vector Control recently set up mosquito traps across the county to track the mosquito population. Under the new collaboration, the mosquitoes collected from the traps will now be brought to researchers at USA.

Each week, Dr. John McCreadie, an entomologist in the biology department at USA, will identify and sort the mosquitoes into pools. Using high-throughput molecular methods, Dr. Jonathan Rayner, associate professor of microbiology and immunology and director of the Laboratory of Infectious Diseases at the USA College of Medicine, will then screen the pools for viruses including dengue, Zika and chikungunya.

Both Zika and chikungunya have been introduced into the United States with localized spread observed in the states of Florida and Texas, respectively.

“We know that some of the vectors that are important in the transmission of viruses like Zika and chikungunya are present in Mobile County, but no one is currently looking to determine if the viruses are here,” Dr. Rayner said. “Just because the vector is present does not mean that the virus is also, but if no one is looking then we can’t know for sure.”

Dr. Rayner said the MCHD has supported a long-standing program in vector-borne infectious disease surveillance that is centered on sentinel chickens. “This program has been very effective, but the issue is that it requires the chicken to be fed on by the mosquito that transmits the virus; and the animal must then develop an antibody response that can be detected,” he said. “The program is also limited in the amount of pathogens that are being screened and does not include some of today’s key pathogens such as Zika.”

The new collaboration allows researchers to capitalize on the mosquitoes themselves, offering a more accurate and extensive picture of what is present. “We bypass the middle man, which is the chicken, and go right to the mosquito pool to look at the genetic signatures that would indicate the presence of the virus,” Dr. Rayner said.

According to Dr. Rayner, the overarching goal of this collaboration is to provide additional advanced warning to the presence of these diseases in our area, so local county health departments and officials can implement appropriate practices and measures to ensure citizens of the county are protected.

“MCHD is excited about its collaboration with USA,” said Kelly Warren, director of prevention and wellness at MCHD. “In its desire to be ever more vigilant in the prevention of mosquitoes and mosquito borne illness, this relationship will strengthen our surveillance significantly.”

Implementation of this program complements current collaborations between USA’s Department of Biology in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Department of Microbiology and Immunology in the College of Medicine to screen ticks in Alabama for infectious diseases, which is funded through a grant from the State of Alabama.

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USA researchers screen mosquitoes