Zika Summit comes to USF College of Public Health

Posted at 5:09 PM, Aug 19, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-19 18:02:48-04

On a college campus some 280 miles from so-called "Zika zones" of Dade County, the University of South Florida assembled a faculty focus group to look the issue right in the eye.

"We're in for a tough fight. Zika represents a perfect storm," Said Douglas Holt, MD, the Hillsborough County Health Dept. Director. "This is a virus that's sneaky. It's a wolf in sheep's clothing."

A wolf that -- despite being around since the 1940s -- has leapt onto the world stage with recent wrath.

Citing increasing incidents and a closer creep toward this part of the state, the scientists and scholars on this stage said the scare here is warranted, mostly because we are simply still somewhat ignorant about the disease, its effects and -- especially -- how it's transmitted.     

"We really don't know -- with the populations that we have here in the United States -- how competent these particular species of vectors are going to be and whether there's going to be variations in the ability of this mosquito to transmit this virus," said Thomas Unnasch, PhD from the USF College of Public Health.

Vowing to study further, these public health experts assured us they would not let this scare sneak up on us here in the Tampa Bay area. But it was more than just discussions today, in fact, some local lawmakers got a first-hand view of some of the Zika research going on at the USF campus.

U.S. Representatives David Jolly and Kathy Castor toured a lab where scientists are already working on ways to prevent the spread of the virus -- and perhaps create a vaccine against it. It's the sort of cutting-edge work that the leaders of USF health programs want to highlight as they push to make this University's College of Medicine world-class by fighting a global threat.