23 Jul 2016

NZ-based mosquito could transmit Zika - researchers

12:31 pm on 23 July 2016

The Ministry of Health is awaiting further testing after a mosquito commonly found in New Zealand was discovered to potentially be a transmitter of the Zika virus.

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The Culex mosquito, found in New Zealand, may be capable of transmitting the Zika virus. Photo: 123rf.com

Brazilian researchers have said they have found signs of the virus in the Culex mosquito, and are trying to determine if it could be a significant source of infection.

They discovered the traces in Culex mosquitos captured in northeast Brazil in the city of Recife.

The species is different to the Aedes aegypti, which is considered primarily responsible for transmitting Zika.

Landcare Research said the Culex mosquitos arrived in New Zealand in the 1830s and were spread throughout most of the country.

The Ministry of Health said it closely monitored developments relating to Zika.

"The research, which is in its early stages, must be considered in conjunction with a range of other research being done internationally," said Stewart Jessamine, the acting director of public health.

"The Ministry agrees with the researchers' comments, as quoted in the article, that further tests are needed to determine whether the species in question is responsible for transmitting the virus to humans and, if so, to what extent."

Figures from the Institute for Environmental Science and Research show 90 cases of Zika virus have been reported in New Zealand since early January, all connected to people who have travelled overseas.

"New Zealand health authorities routinely monitor international scientific literature on mosquitoes and mosquito borne diseases and will continue to watch developments with Zika closely," said Dr Jessamine.

"Surveillance for exotic mosquitoes is conducted at international air and sea ports to make sure we detect any exotic mosquitoes as soon as possible and so make sure species that may be very efficient disease vectors don't establish in New Zealand."

The Brazilian researchers released their preliminary findings in March.

At the time, Auckland University researcher José Derraik said even though the risk of mosquitoes transmitting viruses to humans in New Zealand was very low, it could not be disregarded.

"What could happen in the worst-case scenario is mosquitoes could bite a person who had come back from overseas infected with the virus, and the mosquitoes could then transmit it to another person in New Zealand."

He said people at risk of contracting Zika in other countries should use insect repellent to minimise the chances of local transmission.