The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) began a collaborative mosquito surveillance project with Oklahoma State University (OSU) entomologists this Spring to detect the possible presence of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in six different Oklahoma communities.
Aedes aegypti are considered the primary mosquito carrier of the Zika virus in South and Central America and the Caribbean where a Zika epidemic is ongoing. There has been no local transmission of the virus confirmed anywhere in the United States as of this writing.
An early finding of the project has been the identification of a small number of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in various locations in Altus, Oklahoma. In previous years, rare collections of Aedes aegypti have been noted in Oklahoma and Comanche counties. This is the first discovery in Jackson County. Oklahoma’s drier weather and lack of dense human population make it a less favorable region for the yellow fever mosquito.
“The presence of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in Altus does not mean that community or other communities in Oklahoma will have locally originated cases of Zika virus,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Kristy Bradley. “Gaining a better understanding of the potential locations and density of this mosquito adds to our knowledge and risk assessment for Zika. For local transmission of Zika virus to be possible, mosquitoes must first have to pick up the virus from an infected person to be able to spread it to others,” she added.
Four of the six regions being monitored include communities with proximity to military bases, said Dr. Bruce Noden, a medical and veterinary entomologist at OSU, who is coordinating the project.
“This choice was because of the potential for mosquitoes to be transiently introduced by movement of military supplies. It seems quite unlikely, however, that this current finding came from nearby Altus Air Force Base,” Noden said.
To date, 13 international travel-acquired cases of Zika virus have been confirmed among Oklahomans, none involving a resident of southwest Oklahoma.
Health officials note that despite these findings, the primary concern in Oklahoma is West Nile virus, a mosquito-borne disease spread by the Culex mosquito.