Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Citizen-Scientists: Uncle Sam Wants You to Fight Zika!

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Citizen-Scientists: Uncle Sam Wants You to Fight Zika!

Article excerpt

MIAMI * The mosquitoes that can spread Zika are already buzzing among us. The U.S. government could use some help figuring out exactly where.

No experience is necessary for what the U.S. Department of Agriculture envisions as a nationwide experiment in citizen- science. Teens already have proven themselves up to the task in tryouts involving a small number of students and science teachers.

Now it's time for the Invasive Mosquito Project to scale up and fast. Zika has been linked to serious birth defect,s and health officials are preparing for the possibility of small outbreaks in the United States. But there's little money in government budgets to track its spread.

"We don't have a lot of data good, solid data," said John-Paul Mutebi, an entomologist with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

What the USDA is proposing is the kind of population survey not seen in the continental United States since World War II, when the country eradicated mosquito-borne viruses. In a 1945 film, the U.S. government encouraged schoolkids and Scout troops to do their part in keeping their neighborhoods free from dengue and yellow fever.

Volunteers now are needed to collect mosquito eggs in their communities and upload the data to populate an online map, which in turn will provide real-time information about hot spots to help researchers and mosquito controllers respond.

Some local surveys have been revived as dengue fever and other viruses creep back into the country, carried in the blood of travelers and transmitted through mosquito bites.

But those data haven't been centralized, and the gaps are clear to CDC researchers, whose national maps only roughly show the potential spread of two disease-carrying mosquitoes.

The CDC's maps are based on historical reports, recent research and surveys sent in February to mosquito control districts nationwide, but evidence remains thin for habitat estimates. They suspect that Aedes aegypti could carry Zika well beyond the Southeast during the summer, and the more cold-hardy Asian tiger mosquito could be biting into the Midwest and Northeast. …

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