A group of Western Illinois University student and faculty researchers are spending the summer conducting surveillance of tick-borne diseases and mosquito-borne arboviruses in regional counties.
The Vector Biology Program at Western, led by Assistant Professor of Biology Catherine Miller-Hunt, will soon begin studying how the Zika virus gets into human cells and researching ways to inhibit those entry ways. Miller-Hunt has also done successful research on the measles virus and portions of the Ebola virus at other universities and at WIU.
The Zika virus is spread to people through the bite of an infected mosquito. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes.
The virus is most dangerous when it is contracted by a pregnant woman. It can cause a serious birth defect called microcephaly, where a baby's head is smaller than the typical size. Currently, the main mosquito vector that can transmit Zika virus is not found in Illinois, and the risk of Zika virus and this vector making it to western Illinois in the near future is slim. However, it is important to learn as much about this virus as possible, before the virus becomes more of a problem than it already is.
This summer, "Team Vector" at WIU is being headed by Jason Hunt, of Vermont (IL), a doctoral student in the Institute for Environmental Studies. The team is searching out the types of mosquitoes found in McDonough, Cass, Schuyler and Fulton counties.
"Team Vector will also determine if any of these mosquitoes harbor viruses, including West Nile Virus and other viruses," said Miller-Hunt.
Western Illinois University