Zika may be spread by 35 mosquito species

New York: Researchers have identified 35 mosquito species, including 26 previously unsuspected ones, that could possibly transmit the deadly Zika virus.

“The biggest take-home message is that these are the species that we need to prioritise,” said lead author Michelle Evans from University of Georgia in the US.

Zika virus is currently known to be transmitted to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito (Ae. aegypti and Ae. albopictus).

These are the same mosquitoes that spread dengue and chikungunya viruses, according to US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The researchers said that targetting Zika’s potential vectors — species that can transmit the virus from one host to another — is an urgent need, given its explosive spread and the devastating health effects associated with it.

The new predictive model, detailed in the journal eLife, could streamline the initial step of pinpointing Zika vectors.

“What we’ve done is to draw up a list of potential vector candidates based on the associations with viruses that they’ve had in the past as well as other traits that are specific to that species,” study co-author Courtney Murdock, Assistant Professor at University of Georgia, said.

“That allows us to have a predictive framework to effectively get a list of candidate species without having to search blindly,” Murdock said.

The researchers developed their model using machine learning, a form of artificial intelligence that is particularly useful for finding patterns in large, complicated data sets.

Data used in the model consisted of information about the traits of flaviviruses — the family that includes Zika, yellow fever and dengue — and all the mosquito species that have ever been associated with them.