Faculty & Staff Honors

Faculty & Staff Honors

Florida Receives Funding to Study Zika in Haiti

Dr. Bernard Okech, an associate professor in the University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions’ department of environmental and global health, has received a $100,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to study the entomological aspects of Zika virus transmission in Haiti.

Okech, Bernard

[Photo: Dr. Bernard Okech]

Dr. Okech, who is a member of UF’s Emerging Pathogens Institute, studies mosquito-borne diseases at UF’s public health laboratory in Gressier, Haiti. In addition to Dr. Okech’s grant, the National Institutes of Health has awarded more than $1.75 million to UF to supplement ongoing research into infectious diseases in Haiti.

“Not only are we doing great research on the Zika virus, but for the first time we’re also getting awards to support that research,” said Dr. J. Glenn Morris, director of the Emerging Pathogens Institute.

With the Caribbean so close to Florida, research in that region has relevance for people living within subtropical regions of the United States.

“The funds we are receiving to support our research on the Zika outbreaks in the Caribbean will help us begin to understand the risk to Florida,” Dr. Morris said.

Although the Zika virus has had its greatest impact on people in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean, the United States is also at risk of heightened Zika transmission.

“The U.S. mainland harbors many of the same mosquito species as Haiti,” Dr. Okech said.

Many reports have stressed the significance of the Aedes aegypti species in transmitting Zika virus, but other mosquitoes can transmit Zika as well. Dr. Okech says more investigation is needed into the competency of Aedes aegypti as a vector compared with other types of mosquitoes.

While Dr. Okech’s grant will support research on the range of mosquitoes able to transmit the Zika virus, the NIH award will buttress efforts to identify Zika infections in Haiti, both symptomatic and asymptomatic, tracking the movement of Zika and similar viruses at both the local and national level.

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