The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are granting a team of Florida researchers $10 million to research Zika and other mosquito-borne diseases. University of Florida scientists will lead the regional research center, in collaboration with teams from the University of Miami, Florida International University, and the University of South Florida.
CDC Director Tom Frieden hopes the center will develop techniques to stop the spread of diseases like Zika.
“Zika continues to be a threat to pregnant women. States, territories, and communities need this CDC funding to fight Zika and protect the next generation of Americans,” Frieden said in a news release.
The infection swept the Western Hemisphere this year, affecting more than 1,200 people in Florida and more than 33,600 people in Puerto Rico. Zika can cause mild-flu like symptoms in some, but is associated with severe birth defects in babies who contract the disease in utero. Zika is the most recent mosquito-borne disease to sweep the state, but it is not the only one: chikungunya, yellow fever, and dengue virus have taken root as well. The state’s warm climate, urban density, and residents’ travel patterns make Florida especially vulnerable to mosquito-born diseases. But lead researcher Rhoel Dinglasan at the University of Florida says these factors also make the state a ‘real-world laboratory’.
“Florida really is ground zero. We are the gateway for vector-borne diseases into the United States. But we have the research capability to stop them,” Dinglasan said in a written statement.
The research center will also help train public health experts and local mosquito control managers, in order to combat a shortage of workers.