FARMINGTON, Conn. (WTNH) — Mosquitoes may seem like pests, but they are responsible for more than one million deaths every year, because they can spread dangerous and deadly viruses.
A UConn health scientist is part of a worldwide team trying to figure out what makes mosquitoes bite certain people more than others. They’re focusing on two serious viruses that have both been detected in the United States in the past. They are Zika and dengue viruses.
The team’s research was done on mice. It turns out that those viruses make their hosts smell tastier. That can result in dangerous consequences, says UConn Health Immunologist Penghua Wang.
“This kind of manipulation of the host by a virus could potentially help the virus spread in nature,” Wang said.
The U.S. experienced a Zika outbreak in Florida in 2016. A large danger of Zika is serious deformities in the babies of mothers infected during pregnancy.
The CDC says that dengue outbreaks occasionally occur in the continental United States. The virus can leave people asymptomatic or be deadly.
Scientists realized that the viruses cause a normal skin bacteria to grow more, making an odor that mosquitoes like.
The team then discovered that treating the infected with a type of vitamin A stops that effect. That could have a major impact.
“Could potentially, you know, save lives, reduce the virus circulation in nature,” Wang said.
When those mosquitoes don’t bite those infected hosts, they won’t carry and spread the dangerous viruses even more.
With scientists worried about more mosquitoes circulating due to climate change, you can imagine the impact this type of research could have in the future of public health.