Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Puerto Rico Lab Fights Zika Spread

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Puerto Rico Lab Fights Zika Spread

Article excerpt

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - As the Zika virus speeds through the hemisphere, a cluster of one-story buildings set in the shade of banyan and mango trees has become the epicenter of the U.S. fight against the pathogen. Behind an unmarked gated entrance in this working-class neighborhood of San Juan, scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have only one focus: to stop Zika's spread. About 100 virologists, biologists, entomologists and more are working here, including dozens brought from CDC sites in Colorado and Georgia. They're racing to develop tests for faster and more accurate diagnosis of infection and killing Aedes aegypti mosquitoes by the hundreds to determine what chemicals are most effective.

Much of it is labor-intensive. The insecticide research means collecting eggs on sticky brown paper placed all over the island, then soaking those egg-dotted sheets in shallow trays of water back at the lab. The eggs grow from larvae into adult mosquitoes, which are kept in mesh cages and fed pig's blood contained in what looks like a membrane-wrapped sausage. The final stage? Putting the adults inside chemical-coated bottles. If 98 percent are dead within 30 minutes, the chemical has real potential against Zika's prime source of transmission.

The effort is critical, according to entomologist Audrey Lenhart, because much of the mosquito population has become resistant to permethrin, one of the most commonly used insecticides in Puerto Rico and abroad.

"It's very impressive, CDC Director Tom Frieden said after visiting the complex during a recent trip. "You see 20 mosquitoes all flying around happily in a bottle that's been coated with an insecticide that is being widely used and next to it another bottle where all 20 mosquitoes have been rapidly knocked down [by the experimental substance] and most of them killed. …

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