Recent studies find that a mosquito borne virus is being carried through snakes during the cold winter season.
The New York Times mentions “The Eastern equine encephalomyelitis virus is found from Florida to Massachusetts and in parts of Latin America. The virus causing the disease normally circulates only in birds, but when it jumps to mammals, it kills 90 percent of infected horses — and about a third of the roughly 10 Americans who get it each year.”
Unfortunately though for this virus, birds fly away for the winter and unlike the West Nile Virus, the “triple E virus” cannot survive in hibernating mosquitoes so it needed to find an alternate route.
Scientists were intrigued by this and began examining mosquitoes and within their, for lack of a better word, guts, the blood of snakes was found. The researchers infected garter snakes in the lab with the virus and then made them “hibernate” in refrigerators. Through all of this, the virus survived.
Scientists then ventured out into the Tuskegee National Forest swamp in Alabama, vacuuming mosquitoes out of beaver dens and drawing blood from poisonous cottonmouths. Virus levels in the snakes peaked in the spring and fall, said Thomas R. Unnasch, lead author of the study. “Snakes’ immune systems work better when it’s warm,” he said, “so they do not clear the virus in cool weather. In spring, when they venture out to warm up, mosquitoes pick up the virus again by biting snakes.” And when he says bite, he doesn’t mean the mosquitoes pierce through the skin of the snake, but enter through their eyes.
Now I think the next step for these scientists is to find a way to keep the snakes from holding onto the virus all winter long!