Virginia Tech researchers tracking Zika's spread across the world

(WDBJ)
Published: Jun. 6, 2016 at 6:09 PM EDT
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The number of confirmed Zika cases in Virginia is on the rise.

According to the state's department of health there are now 20 people infected.

The number is growing around the world and researchers at Virginia Tech are monitoring it's growth.

The maps on computers of part of South America show a big concern spreading throughout the world.

"A year into this outbreak we'd expect to see certain regions in the south and along the coast a little more infected," said Bryan Lewis, a computational epidemiologist at Virginia Tech.

It's a stunning simulation of a virus spread across Brazil - ground zero for Zika. Researchers have used travel data to watch the virus spread and infect states across the country.

The spread is sometimes tied to the economic atmosphere of the area.

"The socio-economic status of both the individuals and the country as a whole play a huge role in the spread of this disease. People's exposure to many of the biting mosquitoes may be dependent on whether they can afford screens for their windows, whether they have air conditioning or not," Lewis said.

What's happened and what could happen next is a question this team, led by Lewis at Virginia Tech, is working to answer.

Lewis specializes in human mobility, a perfect expertise since Zika is spread to mosquitoes from hosts, or people who are infected and travel to an area to get the disease.

"Mosquitoes are controlled by the weather and temperature a lot more than just human activity is and so that puts a interesting twist to how the dynamics of this outbreak go on," Lewis said.

He's part of a national discussion with researchers from across the country who are sharing and collecting data to imitate an epidemic, testing what could happen to mosquitoes that carry the virus through a variety of simulations.

It's sometimes hard to diagnose and track. An itchy rash could be the only symptom. Now it's linked to serious birth defects.

Entomologists at Virginia Tech urge people to wear long sleeves or pants and bug repellent to keep mosquitoes away.