UA Mobile App Tracks Zika Virus For Summer Travelers

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Just because Zika isn’t in the news as much lately, doesn’t mean the mosquito-borne infection no longer is a health threat. Researchers at the University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health and public health officials continue to seek a better understanding of how Zika may spread and if and where it may become endemic.

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With summer travel and mosquito densities starting to peak, risk of viral introduction and local transmission in the United States increases. Tracking the spread of Zika is vital to prevention efforts. The earlier transmission can be detected, the more quickly public health can respond and prevent viruses like Zika from spreading within communities. Yet it is difficult when only 1 in 5 individuals infected with Zika virus show symptoms of illness and even fewer seek care and are tested for the virus.

Kidenga is a community-based participatory science app developed by researchers at the UA Zuckerman College of Public Health to detect disease outbreaks by tracking mosquito activity and symptoms reported by users. The app currently tracks Zika, dengue and chikungunya – viruses that are transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes. All three viruses have similar symptoms, including sudden onset of fever, joint pain, muscle pain, headache, nausea, fatigue and rash.

Kidenga enlists the help of community members to report any symptoms of illness they or family members may have so researchers can identify early clusters of illness that might suggest transmission of Zika, dengue or chikungunya. The app also provides up-to-date information on current transmission and prevention strategies.

Since its launch in September 2016, Kidenga has received 1,300 weekly reports from users from 33 states and 116 counties. Eight percent of participants indicated they had a fever at least once.

“While this is a solid start, greater participation is needed if outbreaks are going to be detected,” said lead investigator Kacey Ernst, PhD, MPH, associate professor of epidemiology at the UA Zuckerman College of Public Health. “Now more than ever communities need to work together to identify and solve public health problems. As funding is stagnant or declining, novel ways to improve health with limited resources are required.”

The Kidenga team is focusing on increasing participation in the U.S.-Mexico border region and Florida given the history of Zika transmission in these areas.

“Last year we were limited in our ability to reach communities in parts of the U.S.-Mexico border region because the app was only in English. With the launch of the Spanish version of the app we hope to increase participation and the chance of identifying any local transmission early,” said Dr. Ernst.

Summer travelers can protect themselves by using the Kidenga app to find where transmission is occurring in addition to protecting themselves from mosquito bites. While pregnant women should take extra precautions due to the severe impacts on the fetus, anyone could become infected and potentially return home to spread the virus to the local mosquito population.

Kidenga is a collaboration between the UA College of Public Health and the UA Bio Computing Facility at the Arizona Research Laboratories. The UA undergraduate students who developed the mobile device application come from the computer information science and engineering disciplines.

Significant support also was provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Skoll Global Threats Fund.

About the Kidenga App

  • Whether you’re on vacation or a staycation, you can use Kidenga to check mosquito activity in high-risk areas for Zika, dengue and chikungunya and get U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) travel recommendations before a trip.
  • Use Kidenga to report mosquito activity in and around your home and community. The app also provides information on how to protect your family and home from mosquitoes.
  • If you do feel ill you can use Kidenga to learn what symptoms are commonly associated with Zika, dengue and chikungunya infections. If your symptoms suggest you may have been exposed to one of the three viruses, the app provides follow-up care instructions and information you can take to your doctor.
  • Reports of illness are kept confidential. Kidenga users search and report by zip code only. You do not provide personal information.
  • Kidenga is available in English and Spanish on iTunes and Google Play.

Zika facts

  • Though many of the highly publicized areas, such as Brazil, have seen a sharp down-turn in transmission, Zika continues to spread to new areas. As of June 20, the World Health Organization classified 56 nations as having new or reintroduced Zika virus transmission.
  • The CDC reports 5,392 cases of Zika virus since 2015; of these, 94 percent (5,120) were travelers returning from affected areas. The CDC reports that 91 babies have been born in the United States with birth defects from maternal Zika infection.
  • Zika virus primarily is transmitted to people through the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti mosquito. Aedes mosquitoes usually bite during the day, peaking during early morning and late afternoon/evening. This is the same mosquito that transmits dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever viruses.
  • Many people infected with Zika won’t have symptoms or will have only mild symptoms. However, a pregnant woman, even one without symptoms, can pass Zika to her developing fetus. Zika infection during pregnancy can cause a birth defect called microcephaly and other serious birth defects. The CDC estimated that 5 percent of women infected with Zika virus during pregnancy had children with birth defects.
  • Where you live, your travel history and the travel history of your sex partner(s) can affect your chances of getting Zika. Zika can spread through sex with a man or woman who has Zika, even if the person does not have symptoms at the time.
  • There is no vaccine or cure for Zika, but being informed and taking precautions can help people avoid Zika and other mosquito-borne diseases.

About the University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health

Established in 2000, the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health at the University of Arizona Health Sciences is the first nationally accredited college of public health in the Southwest. Today the college remains the only accredited college of public health in the state of Arizona with campuses in Tucson and Phoenix. The college enrolls more than 1,100 students each year across degree programs at the bachelor, master and doctoral levels. Through research, education and community engagement, the UA Zuckerman College of Public Health continues to find solutions to public health problems in Arizona, the Southwest and globally. For more information: (Follow us: Facebook | Twitter)

About the University of Arizona Health Sciences

The University of Arizona Health Sciences is the statewide leader in biomedical research and health professions training. The UA Health Sciences includes the UA Colleges of Medicine (Phoenix and Tucson), Nursing, Pharmacy and Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, with main campus locations in Tucson and the growing Phoenix Biomedical Campus in downtown Phoenix. From these vantage points, the UA Health Sciences reaches across the state of Arizona and the greater Southwest to provide cutting-edge health education, research, patient care and community outreach services. A major economic engine, the UA Health Sciences employs almost 5,000 people, has nearly 1,000 faculty members and garners more than $126 million in research grants and contracts annually. For more information: (Follow us: Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | LinkedIn)

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