Forecasting The El Niño-Driven Ebb And Flow Of A Rogue Mosquito

BALTIMORE - As goes El Nino, so goes Aedes aegypti.

Or that, at least, is what some public health officials fear, that as climate events such as El Nino become more pronounced, the range and prevalence of a mosquito whose disease-transmitting ways already puts half the world's population at risk might expand even more.

And while that is a very real concern, predicting the ebb and flow of populations of the mosquito that transmits dengue, a family of debilitating and sometimes fatal viral diseases, has been more art than science.

But now a computer model being honed by scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison may help predict population booms, and when and where in the world the mosquito might show up in response to large-scale climate events like El Nino.

Developed by graduate student Marianne Hopp and climatologist Jonathan Foley, the model is built on an earlier model developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It was described to scientists here today (Aug. 4) at a meeting of the Ecological Society of America.

"It's a mosquito model, not a climate model," said Hopp, but it uses climate data such as precipitation, temperature, humidity and cloud cover to predict the weather's influence on the mosquito during its four life stages.

Aedes aegypti, the mosquito that is the principal carrier of the dengue virus, has expanded its range from its primordial home in Africa to most of the tropical and subtropical world. It is especially prevalent in urban areas where it breeds in rainwater that accumulates in discarded tires and containers.

And although dengue is little known in the United States, it is characterized by the World Health Organization as the world's most common mosquito-borne viral disease, putting as many as 2.5 billion people at risk. Also known as breakbone fever, dengue is a characterized by headache, fever, sore muscles and extreme pain and stiffness of the joints. It can be completely incapacitating and is sometim

Contact: Marianne Hopp
University of Wisconsin-Madison

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