ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It’s possible, though not likely, that Albuquerque will in the future have reported cases of yellow fever, dengue, Zika, chikungunya and other viruses, now that the Aedes aegypti mosquito has been found in Bernalillo County.
Mark DiMenna, deputy director of the Albuquerque Environmental Health Department and a microbiologist, said Tuesday that the Aedes aegypti was only recently found during a regular collection of mosquitoes around the bosque.
“It’s capable of transmitting any of those viruses, but those viruses require competent mosquito vectors for transmission,” he said. “The thing that’s still missing is an active presence of those viruses. You have to have the virus and the vector. So now we have the vector but not the virus.”
Dengue, said DiMenna, has already been found in the border areas of New Mexico, Texas and Mexico.
“Texas will occasionally see dengue in people who have gone to Mexico, so when we see dengue here, it’s travel cases, people who have gone to a country where it’s present and contracted it there,” he said.
The Aedes aegypti, whose common name is the yellow fever mosquito, is a tropical mosquito that has been expanding its range and migrating north for a long time. Reports from the southeastern United States chronicled yellow fever as long ago as the 1800s.
Climate change may have a small role in making “some habitats more suitable for long-term establishment” of the mosquito now, but because of the mosquito’s tropical origins, “we don’t even know if it will survive the winter in Bernalillo County, and we may not find it again in the spring.”
To be clear, DiMenna said, in recent years, the Aedes aegypti has been found in Chaves, Curry, Doña Ana, Eddy, Guadalupe, Hidalgo, Lea, Luna, Otero, Quay, Roosevelt, Sierra, Socorro and Valencia counties. The state Department of Health increased surveillance in those counties because of concerns about the Zika virus.
“It could be that they found Aedes aegypti in counties in New Mexico where they never saw it before because they weren’t looking for it,” he said. “But in Bernalillo County, we have been looking for it, so we know we didn’t have it until this year.”
The Albuquerque Environmental Health Department traps mosquitoes regularly to track West Nile virus “and in the course of doing that, we found the Aedes aegypti,” he said. “We figured it would eventually make its way to Bernalillo County.”