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Zika Epidemic Will Expand Understanding of Vector-borne Disease Transmission


Micaela Martinez, PhD, postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton University, explains how collecting mosquito data for Zika and making it readily available to the public health community can help ecologists get a handle on the transmission of vector-borne diseases.

Interview Transcript (slightly modified for readability)

“Zika is the first vector-borne disease that I’ve studied. All of the other diseases that I’ve studied in the past have been directly transmitted; so [diseases] like polio [result from] fecal-oral transmission [and] measles [result from] direct transmission. Zika is transmitted by mosquitos, and I come at this as a data minor, so what I do, is I get large public health data sets and demography data and I integrate all of those data into mathematical models to study the transmission of infection.

Getting these types of data for diseases like polio, [or] chicken pox [is] easy [because] the case reports are out there [and] the demography is out there. So, when I came into studying Zika, I thought, 'Okay, this is a new infection, [so] we’re not going to have many case reports, but I should be able to find data on mosquitos.' That was not the case. In the United States, and also in many Latin American countries, there are mosquito control boards [and] public health organizations that go out and run surveillance on mosquitos; they’ll [trap] mosquitos, looking for various infections, looking for mosquito abundance, species [that] are out there, but for the most part those data stay hidden away: they’re not made publicly available, they’re not aggregated at the country level, they’re not aggregated regionally, they’re just kind of tucked away in various places.

I would say one of the most important things that will come out of, not just my research on Zika, but more broadly, this Zika epidemic is that now there is a lot of attention being paid to the need to make mosquito data available and live, and very rapidly having it there for the public health community. That is going to have really broad implications because that will allow us to better understand the transmission of a bunch of other pathogens.

This mosquito, Aedes aegypti, that transmit Zika is very problematic. It’s the yellow fever mosquito; it transmits Chikungunya, which is also another emerging pathogen; it transmits Dengue virus. So, by collecting all of these mosquito data for Zika, we’re going to be able to address all these other infectious diseases and really change the ability for infectious disease ecologists, like me, [and] epidemiologists to really get a handle on the transmission of these vector-borne diseases.”
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