Kent

Kent scientists' trip to tackle Zika virus

Image copyright AP
Image caption Trials using modified mosquitoes have been taking place in the Cayman Islands

A team of scientists from Kent is joining forces with researchers in Brazil in the fight against the mosquito which transmits the Zika virus.

The infection has been linked to cases of microcephaly, in which babies are born with underdeveloped brains.

The scientists from the University of Greenwich have flown to Rio de Janeiro to begin a three-year project, working alongside researchers from the Brazilian Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, to learn more about the Aedes aegypti mosquito.

It is an introductory visit to see how scientists from both countries can work together to try to solve many mysteries held by this mosquito, which can transmit other deadly tropical diseases such as dengue fever, yellow fever and chikungunya.

The more they can learn about the animal, the better chance the authorities have of controlling disease outbreak in the future.

Would it be wrong to eradicate mosquitoes?

The mothers fearing for their babies

Brazil's race to find a vaccine

Read more about the Zika virus

There are plenty of possible sites in a country where water supplies can be unreliable and so people collect rain water.

The team is collecting samples from a range of sites in Rio's highly varied socio-economic zones.

A machine has been brought from the UK which pumps air through a charcoal filter over the water sample and then through a special filter that collects the odour given off by the water.

Dan Bray, senior research fellow at the University of Greenwich, said: "We are interested in how mosquitoes use their sense of smell to find places where they can lay their eggs."

Targeted traps

The filters will be taken back to the UK for the chemical compounds now held within them to be analysed.

If it is known where mosquitoes like to lay their eggs, any control can be better targeted.

Ultimately, the researchers say a better understanding of how the Aedes aegypti mosquito lives could help future development of targeted traps or repellents to reduce the numbers of people getting bitten and so minimise the risk of infection.

I get the impression from Dr Richard Hopkins, who is leading the UK arm of the project, there is a real sense of hope among both teams that by working together they can reduce the number of people affected by mosquito-borne diseases.

More on the Zika crisis:

What you need to know: Key questions answered about the virus and its spread

Travel advice: Countries affected and what you should do

The mosquito behind spread of virus: What we know about the insect

Abortion dilemma Laws and practices in Catholic Latin America