Could mosquitoes spread Zika in Ohio? ‘Chances are very low’: OARDC scientist

OARDC scientist Peter Piermarini is an expert on the mosquitoes that spread Zika virus. An assistant professor in the Department of Entomology, his research interests include developing new ways to control disease-causing mosquitoes such as Aedes aegypti, which is Zika’s main carrier. A story on one of those ways is at go.osu.edu/BPp3.

“Zika virus is transmitted by species of Aedes mosquitoes, but Aedes aegypti appears to be the most efficient,” said Piermarini, who’s pictured in the lab with a cageful of his subjects. “Aedes aegypti is not found in Ohio, but it is common in parts of the southern U.S., especially Florida and the Gulf Coast.”

While other Aedes species do live in Ohio, he said their ability to spread Zika isn’t well understood, and that it’s unlikely they’d bring the virus into the state.

Based on that, he said the only way he can envision Zika spreading in Ohio “is if an infected person comes into the state and is bitten by a mosquito species that can transmit it to another person.”

However, Piermarini said, “the only time of the year that is likely to happen is over the summer, and even then the chances are very low without the presence of Aedes aegypti.”

An Aedes aegypti mosquito, the species that is Zika’s main carrier.

Zika or not, he said Ohioans should take steps to avoid mosquito bites. “Even if the exotic Zika virus doesn’t become a problem in Ohio,” he said, “we still have our own mosquito-borne diseases to be concerned about.”

Among those diseases: West Nile virus and La Crosse virus (averaging, respectively, 40 and 25 Ohio cases a year in recent years). See www.odh.ohio.gov/mosquitoes for tips.

“Even if the exotic Zika virus doesn’t become a problem in Ohio, we still have our own mosquito-borne diseases to be concerned about.”—Peter Piermarini

So far, U.S. cases are linked to travel

  • Zika virus is now present throughout Latin America. So far, officials say nearly 200 cases have been reported in the U.S. All were infected while traveling abroad or were sexually infected by their partner who had traveled.
  • In Brazil, Zika virus has been linked to cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome, poor pregnancy outcomes and pregnant women giving birth to babies with birth defects, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Ohio State has issued recommendations to faculty, staff and students traveling to Zika-infected countries. Read them at osu.edu/zikainfo.
  • To contact the scientist: Peter Piermarini at piermarini.1@osu.edu.

(Photos: Peter Piermarini by Ken Chamberlain, CFAES; Aedes aegypti mosquito from iStock.)