The list of mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus has been upgraded to include an additional species, namely the Aedes albopictus.
After Aedes aegypti, the primary vector of the deadly Zika virus, this is now the second mosquito species that can potentially transmit the disease.
Commonly known as the Asian tiger mosquito, the insect was found to carry Zika virus RNA. Although the new species hasn't yet been confirmed to have infected any people, it does however represent an important public health concern.
The discovery belongs to researchers from the Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory at the University of Florida, who published their findings in the Journal of Medical Entomology.
Zika RNA Fragments Present In Aedes Albopictus Males
The researchers collected Ae. albopictus eggs from a number of households in Brazil and later hatched them in their lab. The resulting mosquitoes were then tested for Zika RNA.
The outcome revealed fragments of the virus' RNA were present in the male mosquitoes. According to study lead author Dr. Chelsea Smartt, this means the virus RNA had been genetically passed on by the previous generation.
However, Smartt's team didn't uncover traces of the live Zika virus, which translates into two possible scenarios: either the females that laid the eggs were not actually infected, or the live virus strain couldn't be transferred from parent to eggs (known as vertical transmission).
However, the findings still pose a Zika virus concern and call for further research into the other potential vectors species.
"Our results mean that Aedes albopictus may have a role in Zika virus transmission," Smartt points out.
Asian Tiger Mosquitoes Are Very Common
The new potential Zika virus carrier discovered in Brazil is a widely spread mosquito species. Commonly found throughout the world, the Asian tiger mosquito "has a wide range of hosts and has adapted to colder climates," notes Smartt.
This fuels the worries that Ae. albopictus could help spread the Zika virus as mosquito season hits temperate regions worldwide.
As Smartt explains, it is paramount that insect scientists and medical researchers handle these mosquitoes with caution. All mosquitoes gathered from the virus' risk zones need to be tested for Zika RNA before being brought back to the lab, she emphasizes.
Her study indicates the necessity of extensively analyzing the Asian tiger mosquito's part in the spread of the Zika virus. Additional studies are required to corroborate whether Ae. albopictus is a real threat to the human population.
"There is a need to investigate the role of Ae. albopictus in the Zika infection process in Brazil and to study the potential presence of vertical and sexual transmission of Zika in this species," the study authors wrote in their paper.