NSF awards $1.7 million in rapid response grants to study Zika virus

Zika, discovered in Uganda in 1947, has been documented since the 1950s along the equatorial belt from Africa to Asia. In 2014, the virus spread eastward to French Polynesia, and in 2015 to Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean (including Puerto Rico) and South America, where the outbreak continues. To find new ways of halting the spread of Zika - fast becoming a major public health threat - the National Science Foundation (NSF) Division of Environmental Biology's Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases (EEID) Program has funded nine rapid response, or RAPID, grants totaling $1.7 million.

To find new ways of halting the spread of Zika - fast becoming a major public health threat - the National Science Foundation (NSF) Division of Environmental Biology's Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases (EEID) Program has funded nine rapid response, or RAPID, grants totaling $1.7 million.

"Each new infectious disease presents an ongoing challenge to public health," says James Olds, NSF assistant director for Biological Sciences. "Recognizing the need for urgency, NSF is making these RAPID awards to understand the rate of spread, number of people infected, and likely persistence of Zika as a public health threat, and to help us prepare for the next outbreak."

An emerging threat

The NSF notes that Zika, discovered in Uganda in 1947, has been documented since the 1950s along the equatorial belt from Africa to Asia. In 2014, the virus spread eastward to French Polynesia, and in 2015 to Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean (including Puerto Rico) and South America, where the outbreak continues.

Zika is transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected Aedes aegyptimosquito. Because this mosquito is found throughout the world, it's likely that outbreaks will spread to new countries, scientists say.

Now, researchers have detected the Zika virus in a second mosquito species in the Western Hemisphere, Aedes albopictus, known as the "Asian tiger mosquito," increasing the number of people at risk for the disease.

Unlike Aedes aegypti, which in the U.S. is found mostly in the Southeast and along the Gulf Coast, Aedes albopictus has a range as far north as New England and the lower Great Lakes states. During the summer, when mosquitoes are most abundant in the U.S., Aedes albopictus is often more common than Aedes aegypti.

Zika symptoms are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis ("pink eye"). The illness usually lasts from several days to a week.

However, a woman who is infected with Zika during pregnancy has an increased risk of having a baby with microcephaly. It may also be responsible for neurologic conditions in adults such as Guillain-Barre syndrome, which results in extreme muscle weakness.

Rapid response to Zika

NSF's EEID Program funds the development and testing of predictive models, and discovery of the principles governing the transmission dynamics of infectious diseases such as Zika.

NSF Zika rapid response projects include:

" Environmental drivers of Zika transmission and control.

" Zika vector-climate dynamics in a high-burden region in Ecuador.

" Overcoming uncertainty to enable estimation and forecasting of Zika virus transmission.

" Data-driven mathematical modeling of the shared epidemiology of Zika and similar viruses across the globe.

" And potential enhancement of Zika virus transmission by microfilarial nematodes (blood pathogens).

One example of RAPID-supported research, led by Anna Stewart at SUNYUpstate Medical University, is a study of the socio-ecology and climate responses of Zika virus transmission by catching Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in southern coastal Ecuador. Ecuador is one of 26 countries in the Americas that has reported active Zika virus transmission, according to the U.S.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The towns in Ecuador where the scientists are working - Machala, Huaquillas, and Portovuelo/Zaruma - vary in climate, elevation and socioeconomic conditions, and in their amount of mosquito-borne disease. In recent studies, Machala had the greatest abundance of Aedes aegyptilarvae of all sites surveyed in 10 countries in Latin America and Asia, indicating a high risk for virus transmission.

NSF Zika RAPID Grants

David Abramson, New York University, RAPID: An Evolving Risk Communication Challenge: The Risk Salience of Zika Virus Infection in an Environment of Shifting Scientific, Social, and Policy Uncertainty and Discourse[co-funded with NSF's Directorate for Social, Behavioral &Economic Sciences]

Derek Cummings, University of Florida, RAPID: Data driven mathematical modeling of the shared epidemiology of Zika and other arboviruses across the globe

Nina Fefferman, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, RAPID: Modeling Zika Control Effectiveness with Feedback in Risk Perception and Associated Demand across Scales of Intervention

Courtney Murdock, University of Georgia, RAPID: Environmental Drivers of Zika Transmission and Control

Alex Perkins, University of Notre Dame, RAPID: Overcoming Uncertainty to Enable Estimation and Forecasting of Zika Virus Transmission

Michael Riehle, University of Arizona, RAPID: Determining the Extrinsic Incubation Period (EIP) and Transovarial Transmission Potential of Zika Virus in Aedes aegypti mosquitoes

Anna Stewart, SUNY, Upstate Medical University, RAPID: In-situ Vector Dynamics in a High Burden Region in Ecuador

Jefferson Vaughan, University of North Dakota Main Campus, RAPID: Potential enhancement of Zika Virus Transmission by Microfilarial Nematodes

Gonzalo Vazquez Prokopec, Emory University, RAPID: Harnessing Spatial Heterogeneity to Contain Zika Virus Transmission

Source: Homeland Security News Wire

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