Zika research at Brock

Zika is a mosquito-borne virus that has become a real problem in South and Central America and it’s moving north; pregnant women are even advised to avoid parts of Florida. If a pregnant woman is infected with Zika it can cause birth defects in her baby. There have been cases in Canada but so far they’ve all been travel related, or sexually transmitted.

Researchers at Brock University want to know if the type of mosquitos that live here could transmit the Zika virus, but the dry weather we’ve had means they might not get the answers this year. Graduate students bring insect traps back to their lab at Brock University lab and separate the mosquitos from the other bugs.

Zika is mostly known to be spread through a couple of species of mosquito- that’s why it has been so prevalent in South America. One student is photographing mosquitos brought here from Dominican Republic. But Brock entomologist Fiona Hunter says Zika has been found in more than 20 species of mosquito.

“We wanted to make sure none of the 67 species in Ontario could transmit.”

Brock is the only university in Canada to have a containment level 3 insectary. That means Fiona Hunter and her students can take the mosquitos they catch here in Ontario into that room, and feed them the Zika virus.

“We feed them an infected bloodmeal, and then we track them for 10-14 days.”

The mosquitos stay in incubators and no bugs of any size can leave the room. The mosquitos are tested to see if they can amplify the virus and then spit it out – which would mean they could transmit Zika. So far, none of the Ontario mosquitos has been able to, but of 67 species…

“We have unfortunately only been able to look at about half a dozen species. It has just been an abysmal year for natural mosquitos out there.”

Luckily mosquitos continue to spawn well into the fall here in Ontario so the Brock researchers still have time to collect more species this year. They’ve also made some connections in the local community- people with ponds or other sources of standing water in their yards have invited the students to come collect mosquitos from them.

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