USF among four state universities to study Zika and other diseases through CDC grant

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, the grant teams investigators from UF, USF, the University of Miami and Florida International University to create the Southeast Regional Center of Excellence in Vector-Borne Disease: The Gateway Program.

Thomas Unnasch, PhD, distinguished university health professor and chair of the Department of Global Health at USF College of Public Health, will lead the USF efforts during the project.

USF Health’s Thomas Unnasch, PhD, is a co-principal investigator for the CDC-funded Southeast Regional Center of Excellence in Vector-Borne Disease: The Gateway Program.

USF 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 USF 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 UF here.

RELATED STORY: Mosquito species may be key to transmitting EEE virus in southeast U.S.