Zika may be spread by as many as 35 species of mosquitoes, including seven found in the United States, according to a forecasting model created by University of Georgia ecologists and published Tuesday in the journal eLife.
Most scientists, including those at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, believe Zika is primarily spread through the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti or Aedes albopictus species of mosquito, both of which are prevalent in Florida.
But University of Georgia ecologists suspect that there must be other types of mosquitoes capable of spreading Zika because an outbreak of the virus on Yap Island in 2007 was driven by a different species, Aedes hensilli — and because other viruses closely related to Zika are spread by more than nine mosquito species, on average.
The Georgia researchers created a model to test their theory, and using mathematical analysis, predicted that 35 species of mosquitoes may be able to spread Zika. Seven of those mosquito species are found in the United States.
University of Georgia researchers recommended their findings be used to prioritize mosquito species for further studies that would confirm their ability to spread Zika while the virus is still laying low.
Zika spread rapidly through Brazil and the Caribbean in 2015 and 2016, leading to a spike in babies with severe birth defects born to mothers infected with Zika while pregnant. Miami became the first city in the United States to have active spread of Zika by mosquitoes last summer, after months of people with travel-related infections were reported in the state.
But despite being named a public health emergency by the World Health Organization and by Florida health officials in February 2016, Zika remained little understood by scientists — including the science of how it spreads, University of Georgia researchers reported.
So far in 2017, Florida has reported four travel-related cases and no new local infections. In 2016, Florida’s health department reported a total of 1,325 Zika cases.
Scientists already know that Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes spread Zika. But a new study by University of Georgia ecologists predicts that up to 35 species of mosquitoes may spread the virus, including the following mosquito species found in the United States: Aedes vexans, Culex quinquefasciatus, Culex pipiens, Culex tarsalis, Psorophora ferox.