Protect Yourself From The Zika Virus [Opinion]

Protect Yourself From The Zika Virus [Opinion]

Here’s how to protect yourself from Zika right now: Wear long sleeves, use EPA-approved repellent, and get rid of containers that can become mosquito breeding grounds.

Self-protection basics and additional tips you can find from the University of Florida come from decades of public scientists’ focus on the world’s deadliest animal.

Here’s how to protect ourselves from Zika in the long-term: Scientific research and a coordinated effort to share the results with Floridians.

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You’re fortunate not only to have at UF what’s believed to be the largest academic entomology department in the nation, but to have an entire UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) research campus in Vero Beach, dedicated to slaying mosquitoes and other disease-spreading insects.

The UF/IFAS Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory (FMEL) can generate tip sheets for the public as soon as the latest mosquito-borne malady hits our state. But to figure out how to stop the spread of disease requires experienced scientists, modern laboratories, and research funding.

Asian tiger mosquito closeup

The Asian tiger mosquito is one of the species that can transmit the Zika virus.
Photo by James Newman

The FMEL team is a mosquito strike force that has done valuable work in its labs to counter public health threats such as dengue, chikungunya, and malaria.

We need our own science for slaying mosquitoes. For 60 years, we’ve been perfecting it at FMEL. That means knowing the biology of the mosquito, how it spreads disease, what kills it, and how to kill it without damaging a whole bunch of other species in a cloud of pesticides.

The research we do in the coming months will not only help us overcome Zika but better prepare us for the next threat that starts with the nuisance of a mosquito bite.

The reports of more than 20 locally transmitted Zika cases in South Florida reminds us of how important it is to have scientists ready to respond. Florida can ill afford individual tragedies or large-scale public health damage from Zika.

Nor can our economy. Our number one industry depends upon outsiders feeling safe visiting our state.

We should not depend upon outsiders for science.

I recently saw a painting in Havana of Cuba’s greatest scientist, Carlos Finlay, telling Walter Reed that it is the mosquito that spreads yellow fever. The painting reinforced for me a determination not to depend on non-Floridians for solutions to Florida problems.

Outsiders can be great scientists, but the core mission of UF/IFAS is to solve Florida’s problems. It’s publicly funded science in the service of society.

Conversely, we in Florida want to make the whole world a healthier, less hungry, and more prosperous place. To be clear, though, UF/IFAS starts its focus on its campus. That campus, because of our Extension offices serving all 67 counties, our research centers from Milton to Homestead, and our even more widely scattered classrooms, is the entire state.

How far we can extend our expertise is, of course, dependent on money. That’s why we continue to raise awareness of the importance of supporting public scientists. And it’s why we hope you’ll tell us and tell your neighbors, your representatives, and your workmates what public science can do for you.