Scientists study Zika in Florida

- The mosquito is the biggest pest out there, but this summer, people are even more worried about them. The Zika virus has spread through parts of South and Central America.

There are some cases in the U.S., but officials say they were infected elsewhere. They say, so far, Zika has not been transmitted in the U.S. Still, the possibility of mosquitos spreading Zika here does exist. 

"Have a plan. Now is not the time to start spraying everywhere, but you should be planning what you're going to do if there is a local transmission," said Dr. Jorge Reys, director of the University of Florida's medical entomology  laboratory in Vero Beach.

Reys and other scientists here advise local mosquito control districts on what kinds of chemicals to use, when to spray,  and how to control local mosquito populations.

Zika is new to us, but not to science. Reys says there are records of the virus in Africa in the 1950's. Now he and his colleagues are working to learn just how Zika took off.

"It really spread like wildfire in South America and the Caribbean," offered Reys.

THE ASIAN TIGER CONNECTION

Symptoms of Zika are often mild. Some don't even know they have it. But danger to expectant  mothers is the big concern. Zika is linked to a birth defect called microcephaly, a severe brain defect.

Zika is transmitted by the so-called Yellow Fever mosquito, but preliminary studies here show the Asian Tiger mosquito could also be able to transmit the virus. Reys says that mosquito can live farther north and could impact a greater population in the U.S..

"We're pretty sure it can transmit; we just don't know how well," Reys said.

Scientists at this 60-year-old laboratory are also experimenting with genetics. They say we may soon have the ability to wipe out an entire mosquito species by using genetics to interrupt their ability to breed. However, Reys says that would be a big step, even against a hated enemy like the mosquito.

"It takes not only science, but political will, and big economic investment," he continued.

PROTECTION BASICS

For now, Reys says some of the best protection can come from the basics. Empty all standing water: Bird baths, old tires, and certain plants are among the worst culprits. These are places where mosquitos can breed.

Many repellents are available. Some contain the strong chemical Deet, but there's also a growing number of natural repellents. Reys says read the label carefully.

Wearing long sleeves and long pants can also protect you. 

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