"The peculiar feeding habits of the vectors play a really important role in transmission, and this idea applies to many different diseases. It's one of the really interesting things we've learned from the past decade of research on West Nile virus."
Insights gained from research on West Nile virus could help public health officials deal with other introduced diseases in the future.
"The spread of disease-causing organisms is likely to only increase in the coming years," said Sam Scheiner, director of the Evolution and Ecology of Infectious Diseases program at the National Science Foundation (NSF). The program is a joint effort of NSF and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
"West Nile virus has provided a test of our ability to respond to such spread," Scheiner said. "This research shows that predicting disease incidence in humans and other animals is more complex than first imagined, but that greater understanding of such complexities is possible--knowledge that can be applied to the next threat."
The globalization of trade and travel has spread many invasive species, including infectious pathogens like West Nile virus.
Although its exact route of entry to New York is unknown, West Nile virus may have arrived in an infected mosquito carried across the Atlantic in an airplane.
The virus then adapted quickly to its new environment, evolving a new strain that was transmitted more efficiently by local mosquitoes than the introduced strain. By 2005, the new strain had completely displaced the introduced one throughout North America.
Three species of mosquitoes are key vectors for transmitting West Nile virus in much of North America. Interestingly, these mosquitoes are not among the species that feed frequently on people.
They are bird specialists that happen to bite people often
|Contact: Cheryl Dybas|
National Science Foundation