Campus News

NSF grant will be used to study West Nile virus in New York City

When West Nile virus first struck New York City in 1999, news of the potentially fatal illness alarmed citizens and public health officials alike, showing that even affluent, urban societies are vulnerable to vector-borne diseases. Although West Nile virus has been widely studied, there is still little known about how the ecology of mosquito-borne diseases differs between urban and rural areas. John Drake, an assistant professor in UGA’s Odum School of Ecology, hopes to shed light on these differences with a $578,619 grant from the National Science Foundation.

Drake has partnered with the New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to obtain data on the prevalence of infected mosquitoes, birds and humans. This data will be used to develop computer models to study differences between West Nile virus in urban versus rural environments. Other goals of the three-year study are to present recommendations for improving New York City’s current mosquito control strategies and to provide ecologically-based risk maps and calibrated metrics for early warning of disease outbreak. “I believe mosquito population dynamics, which are notoriously complicated, are the key to this study,” Drake said.

“Human infection with West Nile virus comes through contact with mosquitoes which get the infection from birds, not humans. And so, there is also an important wildlife-mosquito interaction.”