The Northeast experienced an unusually warm and dry winter this year. This irregularly tepid season, quickly becoming the new norm due to climate change, is now giving way to spring rains. While the reprieve from bundling up and shoveling snow may have felt like a welcome relief, and the recent precipitation seems fortunate given the drought conditions had been plaguing the region, the past months have been especially good for insects and arachnids. Mosquitoes and ticks in particular are likely to thrive this coming summer due to these mild and wet conditions and their increased presence raises the prospect of health risks from the diseases they carry.
Zika virus and Lyme disease, transmitted by mosquitoes and ticks respectively, are two contagions that continue to cause great concern across the country. Zika virus is expected to appear once again in the southern United States this summer and continued anxiety remains about its ability to spread further north. In Connecticut, tick populations have already soared this year and testing has shown increased levels of Lyme disease bacteria. Developing vaccines to combat the rise and persistence of these diseases is the focus of Paulo Verardi’s current research. Verardi, an associate professor in the Department of Pathobiology and Veterinary Science, recently designed a quicker and safer method of producing vaccines, which has been speeding up the fight against Zika virus and Lyme disease. He is also lending his expertise to battle cancer by exploring the use of vaccines to create innovative therapies in partnership with UConn Health. While Verardi’s lab is busy with many projects, Zika virus continues to be the primary focus.