Sound Off on Zika

Mosquito “We know that the Aedes aegypti mosquito—its common name is yellow fever mosquito—is a very important vector of the Zika virus. It’s the only example I know of a truly domesticated mosquito; it coevolved with humans. In fact, our ancestors carried it out of Africa in their water containers, and it specializes in people. One of the reasons why it’s such an important vector of Zika and other viruses is because it lives in close association with people. In the tropics, where windows and doors are often open, it will live right in the house and rarely leave. It will lay its eggs in manmade containers, and we’ve found that it takes blood almost every other day from a human host, which is really unusual for a mosquito.”
Laura Harrington, professor and chair of entomology


Globe in hands“As the Zika virus continues to spread, some groups are calling for widespread reintroduction of the pesticide DDT. Banned in the United States in 1972, DDT is known to adversely affect human health, including the liver, nervous system and reproduction. It is listed as a possible human carcinogen and can linger in the soil for hundreds of years. From an ecological standpoint, through “biomagnification”—a phenomenon in which fat-soluble toxins accumulate in animal tissues and reach dangerous levels as they move up the food chain—DDT nearly caused the extinction of charismatic birds like the peregrine falcon, bald eagle and brown pelican. A careful review of strategies to reduce Zika risk is needed, including several alternatives that may be more effective and avoid the weighty human health and ecological burdens of DDT.”
Amanda Rodewald, professor of natural resources and director of conservation science at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology


mother child silhouette“If the spread of the Zika virus does indeed reach epidemic levels, its impact will underscore once more the lethal intersection of class and gender in public health tragedies. In this case, poverty increases the probability of exposure to the virus-carrying mosquito because standing water is a universal feature of poor neighborhoods. Access to piped water 24 hours a day is still a distant dream for many such communities, so the poor more often need to consciously store water for everyday use. Halting the spread of Zika, as well as making the daily lives of poor women a bit easier, will be served by making much stronger efforts to bring water pipes into people’s homes or public spaces in communities, and for more than the customary few hours each day.”
Alaka Basu, professor of development sociology