Notre Dame Researchers Find Disease-Carrying Mosquitoes in DC’s Backyard

As recently reported by researchers at the University of Notre Dame, a major disease-carrying mosquito population has been discovered in a Capitol Hill neighborhood in Washington, DC. To add insult to injury, the team identified genetic evidence that these mosquitoes have overwintered for at least the past four years; meaning they are adapting for persistence in a northern climate well out of their normal range.

Led by Department of Biological Sciences professor David Severson, who most recently served as the Director of the Eck Institute for Global Health, in coordination with the Disease Carrying Insects Program of Fairfax County Health Department in Fairfax, Virginia, the team recently published their findings in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.  The specific mosquito that was discovered, Aedes aegypti, is a major carrier of two arbovirus diseases, dengue and chikungunya, as well as the newly emerging Zika virus. This mosquito is typically restricted to tropical and subtropical regions of the world and not found farther north in the United States than Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and South Carolina.


“What this means for the scientific world,” states Severson, “is some mosquito species are finding ways to survive in normally restrictive environments by taking advantage of underground refugia. What this means for Americans is that a real potential exists for active transmission of mosquito-borne tropical diseases in popular places like the National Mall. Hopefully, politicians will take notice of events like this in their own back yard and work to increase funding levels on mosquitoes and mosquito-borne diseases.”

Severson’s research focuses on mosquito genetics and genomics with a primary goal of understanding disease transmission. He has studied and tracked mosquitoes all over the world so this type of finding in the United States is troublesome. “Though our team is not happy about finding these overwintering mosquitoes in densely residential areas,” states Severson, “if they have to show up somewhere, this particular event might foster additional support for our research efforts globally.”  

The Eck Institute for Global Health is a university-wide enterprise that recognizes health as a fundamental human right and endeavors to promote research, training, and service to advance health standards for all people, especially people in low and middle-income countries, who are disproportionately impacted by preventable diseases.

Photo L to R: Severson with Notre Dame researchers Diane Lovin and Paul Hickner

Contact Sarah Craig at: 574-631-2665