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Fresno County At Center Of Zika Research, Federal Funding Needed

There are a lot of the type of mosquito that could carry the Zika virus in Fresno County. Crews are currently working to stop the spread of the mosquito across the region. But as FM89’s Ezra David Romero reports there’s just not enough funding at the moment to do research on a large scale.

As Katherine Brisco blows into a six-inch cardboard tube she’s releasing male mosquitos in the middle of a suburban Clovis neighborhood park. She says the males don’t bite.

“They’ll be all over you, but they won’t bite you,” says Brisco with Consolidated Mosquito Abatement District. 

This is what 1,000 mosquitos look like. Listen to my story about Zika at Kvpr.org @valleypublicradio A video posted by Ezra David Romero (@ezraromero) on Aug 16, 2016 at 5:01pm PDT

This neighborhood in East Clovis is ground zero for the Aedes aegypti mosquito in the region, which can carry the Zika virus. Jeannette Warnert lives a few blocks away.

“We used to be able to have our windows open, doors open in the morning to get the cool air and suddenly we noticed there were these mosquitos coming in and it’s definitely caused us to stay inside more often,” says Warnert.

FedEx-ed earlier in the day from the University of Kentucky where they were intentionally infected with a bacteria called Wolbachia. When the infected males breed with wild females they become sterile, says Anthony Cornel with the UC Davis Mosquito Research Lab at the Kearney Ag Center in Fresno.

"We're definitely seeing some sterility and also a decline in the number of eggs that are actually being laid. So that probably means there are fewer females." - Anthony Cornel

“We’ve also set out little cups for females to lay their eggs in,” says Cornel. “All those eggs are sent back to Kentucky and they hatch them. If they don’t hatch that obviously means they were sterile.”

The end is goal is to create a smaller chance for people to catch Zika if a mosquito finds an infected host. The 16 week research study is about half over. Cornel says they’re already seeing positive results.

“We’re definitely seeing some sterility and also a decline in the number of eggs that are actually being laid,” says Cornel. “So that probably means there are fewer females.”

Credit Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio
Valley Public Radio
Twenty thousand mosquitoes made the trip from Kentucky Fresno/

Even still the potential Zika carrying mosquitoes aren’t staying put. They’ve spread to parts of Fresno and have been found in Madera as well. Van Do-Reynoso is the director of the Madera County Department of Public Health. She says Fresno and Madera counties received state and federal funding of $40,000 each for public education around Zika.

“It simply isn’t enough if we plan to do massive campaigns throughout the region,” says Do-Reynoso. “Buying media spots so that we can have that mass conversation.”

It’s going to take a lot more funds to halt the spread of the mosquito here. That’s why Fresno Democratic Congressman Jim Costa is calling for Congress to pass a bill that’ll provide just under $1.9 billion to fund research, abatement, outreach around the zika virus and a potential vaccine. 

"I have voted for several pieces of funding measures, but unfortunately in the House it's got caught up with the politics." - Congressman Jim Costa

It’s important because the National Institutes of Health says they will run out of resources around Zika research by the end of August.

“I have a very important concern to ensure that we get this funding appropriated,” says Costa. “I have voted for several pieces of funding measures, but unfortunately in the House it’s got caught up with the politics.”

Earlier in the year there were efforts to re-appropriate dollars for Zika prevention from Ebola research, funding for Planned Parenthood and the Affordable Care Act. Costa says those efforts would’ve never worked. He hopes when Congress goes back in session in September his peers support his bill.

“It’s time that the House gets past the politics and do the right thing, which is provide the necessary funding for the Institute of Health and the Center for Disease Control so that we can ensure that Zika does not spread throughout this country,” says Costa.

Credit Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio
Valley Public Radio
Every Tuesday and Friday mosquitoes are released. The project ends in September.

Unfortunately, Costa thinks the outbreak of Zika in Florida and Texas will aid his effort to provide funding.

Back in the park abatement worker Katherine Brisco and I are surrounded by a swarm of these male mosquitos. These guys will only live about a week.

“They’re going to disperse,” says Brisco. “They’re probably going to hide in the vegetation, hang out at people’s houses and they’ll hopefully find females.”

She shakes the tube and the remaining mosquitoes head out to mate.

ROMERO: “And we are covered in mosquitos.”
BRISCO: “So you’ll have to do the mosquito dance as I call it and shake them off as you’re walking back.”

In order for research like this to take place on a large scale funding is crucial and that means Congress will need to act fast.


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