The University of South Florida will collaborate on a new $10 million grant from Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to study ways to help stop the Zika virus and other infectious diseases from spreading in the United States.
Led by the University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions, the grant teams investigators from Florida, South Florida, the University of Miami and Florida International University to create the Southeast Regional Center of Excellence in Vector-Borne Disease: The Gateway Program.
Dr. Thomas Unnasch, distinguished university health professor and chair of the Department of Global Health at South Florida, will lead the South Florida efforts during the project.
South Florida researchers are working on a way to block transmission of Eastern equine encephalitis (EEEV) by migratory birds, who winter in Florida and fly north in the spring. These birds contract the disease from mosquitoes in certain locations and South Florida is working to target mosquito control in those areas to keep the migrating birds free of the disease.
“This Gateway Program will allow us to better understand and interrupt wintertime transmission of EEEV spread from infected mosquitoes in Florida,” said Dr. Unnasch. “We’re first going to identify the habitats in Florida that support mosquito survival in winter…and then propose treatments to eliminate the small numbers of mosquitoes responsible for the winter transmission. This will allow us to implement an ‘ounce of prevention’ strategy to attack the virus during its most vulnerable period.
“Much of the research we are doing with EEEV may have implications for preventing Zika from over-wintering in Florida,” Dr. Unnasch added, “That may be critical to any effort to eliminate Zika from from the state” and prevent its spread northward, therefore protecting the rest of the country.
For more information, go to press release from Florida here.