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ALERT: Zika Virus Could Be Transmitted by More Mosquito Species Than Previously Thought

Mar 01, 2017 09:32 AM EST

A new study revealed that the number of mosquito species capable of transmitting the dreaded Zika virus was a lot higher than previously thought.

The study, published in the journal eLife, showed an additional of 26 potential candidate species that can serve as vectors for the virus. Alarmingly, seven of those additional candidate species occur in the continental United States.

"The biggest take home message is that these are the species that we need to prioritize," said Michelle V. Evans, a doctoral student in ecology and conservation at University of Georgia and lead author of the study, in a press release. "Especially as we're in the slower part of the mosquito season, now is the time to catch up so we're prepared for the summer."

Read Also: New Experimental Zika Vaccine 100% Effective in Animal Trials -- How Does it Work?

For the study, the researchers developed a new predictive model using machine learning, a form of artificial intelligence, to find significant patterns in large, complicated data sets. The researchers fed data consisting of the traits of flaviviruses and traits of all the mosquito species that have ever been associated with them. Flavivirus is the family that includes Zika, dengue and yellow fever.

By analyzing the known mosquito-virus pairs, the researchers were able to identify certain traits that can be used as strong predictors of whether a mosquito species is capable of becoming a vector for Zika virus. The most important traits in mosquitoes are their subgenus, the continents it occurred on and the number of viri it was able to transmit. On the other hand, the most important trait in viruses is the number of mosquito species able to act as its vector.

The researchers, using the new predictive framework, found 35 mosquito species that can potentially become Zika vectors. The new candidates for vector list consist of 26 mosquito species that were previously considered as unsuspected possibilities. Among the list, seven occurs in the continental US.

The researchers noted that their results are just predictions and in need to be further validated by empirical work. However, they suggested that people doing ZIka research should focus first on mosquito species included in their list.

Read Also: We May Be on the Verge of Earth's Sixth Mass Extinction, Humans Included 

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