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UA professors develop defense against mosquito-borne virus

PHOENIX — With summer comes pesky bugs such as mosquitoes, ticks and scorpions and the viruses they may carry.

In order to combat one of these dangerous viruses, two UA professors used math to create a defense against the mosquito-borne chikungunya virus in a U.S. Department of Defense competition.

The assistant professor of epidemiology and professor of mathematics beat out 38 other institutions and walked away with a $150,000 grand prize for their work in predicting the virus.

Their model, which analyzed the behavior of mosquitoes, pathogens and humans by using climate changes, was the most accurate for all Western Hemisphere countries and territories between September 2014 and March 2015.

Just like the West Nile virus, chikungunya is spread through mosquitoes and has many similar symptoms, according to Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine with the Maricopa County Department of Health. The virus can cause common symptoms such as the onset of a fever and joint pain, but may also include headaches, muscle pain, joint swelling or a rash.

Sunenshine said anyone who likes to be outdoors should take the same precautions as they would to prevent mosquito bites, such as wearing long-sleeved clothing and insect repellent.

The virus was found for the first time in the Americas on islands in the Caribbean in late 2013, but has since spread to the states. The CDC has reported 225 confirmed cases of the virus across the U.S. so far this year.

Out of those 225 cases, the CDC has only reported one case in Arizona, while New York had the highest in the nation with 40 cases. Officials believe the high number of cases in New York has to do with a large amount of travelers in the state.

The pair said they will be using the $150,000 to further their work.