Using Mathematical Models to Fight the Zika Virus

New Notre Dame Research will be used to generate maps that provide time-sensitive estimates of mosquito densities, human birth rates, and Zika transmission activity across Latin America and the Caribbean. The model outputs will be available online to provide users with the ability to find reported cases and estimated incidences by location to improve disease transmission and prevalence forecasts, which is critical to making accurate predictions and translating results into effective public health strategies.

The study is being conducted by Alex Perkins, Eck Family Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences and Eck Institute for Global Health affiliated faculty member, who received a rapid response grant (RAPID) from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Division of Environmental Biology’s Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases Program for his research proposal that focuses on enabling estimation and forecasting of Zika virus transmission. NSF created the RAPID awards in order to specifically understand the rate of spread, number of infected people, the likely persistence of Zika as a public health threat, and to help prepare for the next outbreak.

Perkins Alex

“It is exciting to receive this award at this juncture in the epidemic,” said Perkins. “Enough time has passed that we have learned some important basics about Zika's biology and now have the opportunity to contribute to forecasts of what might happen in coming months as conditions get warmer and wetter in Central America and the Caribbean.”

Results from the project will benefit the Zika public health emergency, as researchers will have tools in place to share quality data and forecasts both during the study and after the project concludes. This will be a valuable asset for policymakers as they continue to make decisions surrounding this disease.  

“This grant will allow us to contribute a number of data and modeling products to the academic and public health communities, including improved estimates of spatial and temporal variation in mosquito densities, improved estimates of spatial variation in birth rates, and mathematical models that better account for unique aspects of Zika's epidemiology.” Perkins continued, “We are serious about communicating this work broadly, with our results being made available online at as they are developed.”

Zika is primarily transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti mosquito, a species that the University of Notre Dame has nearly 60 years of experience studying. Perkins’ research will provide estimates of Aedes aegypti mosquito density across the Americas as well as updated human population data as it applies to predictions of Zika-infected microcephaly.

 “My lab is seeking to prioritize work related to the Zika epidemic as much as possible given the urgency of the situation,” said Perkins. “Having a responsive mechanism like NSF's RAPID awards is critical for giving us the flexibility to address such a time-sensitive challenge.”

Perkins will work with Co-Principal Investigator Robert C. Reiner, Jr., Assistant Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Indiana University, on the $200,000 research project. Other universities to receive one of the nine NSF RAPID grants include Emory University, New York University, the University of Arizona, and more.

Perkins is associated with the Eck Institute for Global Health, 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. If you would like to learn more about Alex Perkins, please visit

Sarah Craig / Communications Specialist

Eck Institute for Global Health / University of Notre Dame / 574.631.2665

About Notre Dame Research

The University of Notre Dame is a private research and teaching university inspired by its Catholic mission. Located in South Bend, Indiana, its researchers are advancing human understanding through research, scholarship, education, and creative endeavor in order to be a repository for knowledge and a powerful means for doing good in the world. For more information, please see or @UNDResearch.