University of Notre Dame | November 11, 2017
Leading up to the 2016 summer Olympics in Brazil, Zika virus ravaged South America, and photos and videos of patients haunted the news worldwide. A year later, Zika has fallen out of conversation in the United States, but not so for the rest of the world.
“In general, cases of Zika have definitely decreased in most of Central and South America, but the virus is not gone. The mosquitoes carrying Zika and other diseases are still there, and the risk for another infection outbreak is still quite prevalent,” says Elitza Theel, director of the Infectious Diseases Serology Laboratory and co-director of the Vector-Borne Diseases Service Line at Mayo Clinic.
Though Zika virus was identified in 1947, the World Health Organization (WHO) says it was largely localized for 60 years. In 2007, the first recognized outbreak of Zika affected 5,000 people on Yap Island in the Federated States of Micronesia. From there, it moved to French Polynesia and then in 2015 to Brazil, where an outbreak quickly devastated South America.
According to WHO, “Once established in Brazil, Zika spread explosively within the country and then throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Within a year, the virus had been detected in nearly every country or territory infested with Aedes aegypti, the principal mosquito species that transmits Zika, dengue, and chikungunya. Two factors favoured explosive spread: the lack of population immunity and the behaviour of the mosquito.”
That mosquito has been studied at the University of Notre Dame since 1957 when George B. Craig Jr. pioneered mosquito genetics with his work on Aedes aegypti. Since then, Notre Dame has become a global leader in the study of Aedes aegypti and other insect carriers of infectious disease.