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Residents of Key West have a choice: Dengue or GMO mosquitoes?

In Dengue Fever, Uncategorized on July 23, 2012 at 7:18 am
By Philip Bump
Floridians don’t like dengue fever. No one does: it’s a painful ailment spread by mosquitoes that results in skin rash, achiness, sometimes a little bit of death. Oxitec, a biotechnology firm based in the U.K., has a possible solution: mosquitoes engineered to die before they can spread the disease.Turns out that Floridians don’t particularly care for bioengineered mosquitoes, either. From Nature:

[I]t took only three months for Mila de Mier to gather 100,000 names from people opposed to the release of the mosquitoes in Key West, Florida, where the potentially lethal disease is making a comeback. …

“The more questions we ask, the more confused we are,” says de Mier, a Key West business woman, who started the petition in April. “I started thinking, ‘Oh my goodness, what if these mosquitoes bite my boys or my dogs? What will they do to the ecosystem?’.”

The good news for de Mier’s boys and dogs is that Oxitec’s mosquitoes are all male and therefore don’t bite. They live short lives mating with the native population, passing on the self-destruct gene. In field tests conducted in Brazil, introduction of Oxitec’s mosquitoes dropped the population in a small area by 85 percent in one year. That could make a difference against a disease that’s already established a foothold. A 2010 study found that 5 percent of Key West residents already carry the virus. The existing method used to stem transmission, as The New Yorker notes, is to dump insecticide over wide swaths of the area.

Short of moving (might we suggest Southern California? It has none of the tropical climate and all of the access to Disney), residents of Key West are left with this choice: suffer from the effects of dengue fever, expose large portions of the population to insecticide, or release genetically modified mosquitoes.


Rhode Island Lawmakers Push Lyme Disease Strategy

In Lyme Disease, Uncategorized on July 21, 2012 at 5:08 pm

July 15, 2012


A group of lawmakers is pushing for a national strategy to combat

Lyme disease aimed at speeding advances in diagnosis, treatment and prevention of the sometimes serious illness that infects tens of thousands of people every year.

“The tick problem is growing. The Lyme disease problem is growing,” said Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., a cosponsor of the bill in the U.S. Senate. “This requires resources.”

The legislation provides for the establishment of an advisory committee made up of researchers, patient advocates and agencies, as well as the coordination of support for developing better diagnostic tests, surveillance, research and other efforts.

“The key with the bill is to get everyone in the room, get all of the best available science and then aggressively attack this hideous disease that has ruined so many lives,” said Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., the sponsor in the House who has pushed similar legislation in the past.

Reed and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who introduced the Senate bill, said they hope to pass a bill this year.

“It is essentially designed to create awareness and understanding in public healt

h agencies about the urgent and immediate need to act more effectively against a disease that truly has reached epidemic proportions,” Blumenthal said.

Lyme disease is the sixth most common reportable disease in the United States, and the second highest (behind chlamydia) in the Northeast, said Dr. Ben Beard, director of vector-borne diseases at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In recent years, Lyme disease cases have increased around the country. Some of that may reflect improved testing and reporting, Beard said. But he said researchers also believe there has been a real growth in cases, possibly because of more deer and the spread of suburbia into previously uninhabited places.

This year, 8,400 cases have already been reported, the CDC said. Lyme experts believe the number of actual cases is likely larger, in part because tests for the disease are unreliable.

Lyme disease is named after Lyme, Conn., where the illness was first discovered in 1975. It’s transmitted through t

he bites of infected deer ticks, which are about the size of a poppy seed. Those infected often develop a fever, headache and fatigue, and sometimes a tell-tale rash that looks like a bull’s eye centered on the tick bite. Most people recover with antibiotics, although some symptoms can persist. If left untreated, the infection can cause arthritis or spread to the heart and nervous system.

Treatment can be tricky, especially in cases that aren’t caught early.

Reed said the bill would ultimately result in more federal money aimed at Lyme disease, welcomed news to Thomas Mather, a professor and director of the University of Rhode Island’s Center for Vector-Borne Disease, which runs the TickEncounter Resource Center.

A grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2006 helped start his program, which works to reduce tick-borne illnesses including

Lyme disease. Mather said it’s difficult to get the money he needs to keep the work going, and he hopes enacting a federal strategy will make that easier.

“We’re really looking for ways to sustain these activities,” he said. “Mostly what’s needed are more resources.”

The Infectious Diseases Society of America, an influential doctor’s group that sets guidelines for treatment of Lyme disease, has opposed similar legislation in the past. In 2009, it raised concerns about whether such a panel might be slanted and not adequately represent the views of the scientific community.

It has not yet taken a position on the pending legislation.

If the legislation passes, Lyme disease would be the latest in a string of diseases to be targeted with a national strategy, the most recent being Alzheimer’s disease.

Smith has scheduled a Congressional subcommittee hearing on Tuesday about challenges in diagnosing and managing Lyme disease.

First Westchester County, NY West Nile Mosquitoes of 2012

In Lyme Disease, Uncategorized, West Nile Virus on July 21, 2012 at 5:04 pm

Updated: July 20, 2012 8:35 PM

An undated file photo of a mosquito, a

Photo credit: Getty Images | An undated file photo of a mosquito, a carrier for the potentially lethal virus West Nile.

Lab tests have confirmed the first mosquitoes contaminated withWest Nile virus in Westchester County this summer, county health officials said Friday.

The “batch” of mosquitoes — found in Mamaroneck — was sent to a state Department of Health laboratory for testing.

“We expect to find mosquitoes that carry West Nile virus at about this time, so we hope confirmation of their presence reminds residents to take precautions” including using mosquito repellent and wearing protective clothing, Sherlita Amler, Westchester County’s health commissioner, said in a statement.

The midsummer find mirrors results last year, when health officials confirmed the first infected mosquitoes in early August. Overall, 32 batches of mosquitoes tested positive for West Nile virus last year in Westchester County.

Across the river, health authorities in Rockland County found contaminated mosquitoes in late June, at least a month earlier than has been typical. The infected mosquitoes were found in Haverstraw and Ramapo, according to the Rockland County Health Department.

The lab tests prompted a response from County Legis. Ken Jenkins, D-Yonkers, who blamed County Executive Rob Astorino for trimming the health department’s budget. Because of budget cuts,Jenkins claimed, in 2011 Westchester County applied larvacide to 20,000 fewer catch basins than it did in 2010.

“In matters like public health and safety, I think we have to always move forward with an abundance of caution and vigilance,” Jenkins said in a statement. “Last year, the number of inspections and larvicide applications were reduced sharply from the previous year because of funding cuts by theAstorino Administration, and this short-sighted approach could lead to deadly consequences.”

West Nile virus was first identified in New York in 1999, and since then the virus has spread across the continental U.S. Although most people don’t realize they’ve been exposed, the virus can have serious consequences for the very young or old and people with existing health conditions or compromised immune systems.

West Nile fever, the less-severe form, can lead to symptoms similar to the common cold or flu, including headache, nausea, sore throat and swollen lymph nodes, according the Centers for Disease Control.

More serious infections can have debilitating symptoms, such as confusion and loss of consciousness, tremors, muscle weakness and vision loss.

Stagnant water is the best breeding ground for the virus, and Amler urged people to “remove standing water from gutters and play equipment, empty buckets and other containers around your property, and turn over children’s pools after their use.”

The health department offered a list of tips and recommendations:

Avoid the outdoors in the early evening when mosquitoes are active and feeding. Use insect repellents when outdoors during these times, following the repellent directions. Adults can apply insect repellents with up to 30 percent DEET onto their own hands and then rub the repellent onto their children. Products containing DEET are not recommended for use on children under two months old.

Wear long pants, long-sleeved shirts and socks when outdoors in areas where mosquitoes are feeding.

Check around property for cans, containers and ceramic pots and discard or turn them over.

Check and remove standing water from children’s toys, pools, wheelbarrows and play houses.

Remove discarded tires.

Drill holes in the bottoms of all recycling containers that are left outdoors.

Change the water in birdbaths at least twice weekly.

Sweep driveways after it rains to clear puddles.

Keep storm drains and gutters clear of leaves and debris.

Clean and chlorinate swimming pools, outdoor spas and hot tubs and drain water that collects on their covers.

Residents who notice large areas of standing water on public property that could serve as potential mosquito breeding grounds should report it to the Westchester County Department of Health by calling 914-813-5000 or emailing the Health Department at

Mosquito Warning for Montanans

In DEET, Lyme Disease, Uncategorized, West Nile Virus on July 21, 2012 at 5:01 pm

Posted: July 19, 2012 10:59 AM by Melissa Anderson (Helena)

Mosquitoes are loving the recent weather conditions in Montana, and while the pesky insects are mostly annoying, they can also spread a dangerous virus.

Montana health officials are cautioning people to be aware that mosquito bites can carry West Nile virus, and besides using mosquito repellent, there are some other ways people can protect themselves.

Lewis & Clark County public health nurse Mike Henderson said, “You can prevent bites of course by covering up your skin. Long sleeves, long pants, especially at dusk and dawn. And if we can take measures to prevent where mosquitoes are going to be able to breed. Drain any standing water around your place at least once a week.”

Infection by West Nile virus occurs in about three to 14 days after being bitten and while most people who get bit won’t have any symptoms, some people may develop a headache, fever, fatigue and joint stiffness.

Sri Lanka Deploys Troops to Battle Dengue Fever

In Dengue Fever on July 2, 2012 at 2:58 pm

Ten thousand troops are being deployed in Sri Lanka to combat dengue fever, which is spread by mosquitoes. Fifteen thousand people were infected during the first five months of 2012

Nigeria: Malaria Control Under Threat From Insecticide Resistance

In Malaria, Uncategorized on July 2, 2012 at 2:22 pm

Nigerians have become so at home with malaria that they feel it is no longer a threat but scientists believe that it is still a very big threat to man today. Statistics show that worldwide, it kills more than 1.2 million people annually.

Prevention, they say, is better than cure so researchers at the Department of Public Health, Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) are working hard to see that malaria is eradicated by eliminating the vehicle through which the malaria parasite is transmitted to man, the female anopheles mosquito. In this chat with Dr. Sam Awolola, head of the Department of Public Health, NIMR, he says all the efforts will come to naught if proper policies are not put in place. Excerpts:

According to Dr Awolola, the three main processes in malaria control are prevention, treatment and the possibility of having a vaccine against malaria but in NIMR, the focus is on prevention.

“When you talk of prevention, you are talking of how to prevent people from getting infected with malaria; how to prevent transmission from mosquito to human. We focus on preventing mosquitoes from infecting people with malaria through three major ways: Use of long-lasting insecticide-treated nets impregnated with insecticide. They can last up to three years; spraying the houses with WHO-approved insecticides done by trained personnel. When a house is adequately sprayed, the insecticide repels mosquitoes because it has excito-repellent effect.

It also kills those that are stubborn and land on the sprayed wall. This is done every six months or at least once a year depending on the epidemiology of malaria in that environment. The third aspect is larva source management. Mosquitoes breed in stagnant water and before they become adults, they pass through some phases and at that level, you can catch them. Larva source management has two portions – larviciding, ie applying insecticide to the larva and pupa stages.

The other aspect is environmental management. Mosquitoes breed in stagnant water and such water can be cleared or made to flow and all the larvae will be killed. If your gutters are flowing, the water will carry the larvae along and destroy them. Also, some areas of vegetation support the breeding of mosquitoes. We clear those vegetations. All these make up environmental management. So environmental management plus larviciding are put together as larva source management,” he stated.

He said using protective clothing or aerosol in houses do not make much impact when it comes to reducing malaria morbidity and mortality.

Vector resistance:

Awolola noted that their research in the last 10 years has shown clearly that there is a lot of resistance to public health insecticides used for malaria vector control in Nigeria. Due to continuous use of the four classes of chemical insecticides (pyrethroids, carbamates, organophosphates and organochlorines), the mosquitoes were subjected to a lot of pressure and over the years, they adapted to the environment so well that they have now become resistant to the insecticides.

“Mosquitoes react to an insecticide in two main ways: One is by trying to metabolise (decay) it using some chemical enzymes so that it becomes non-toxic. Another way is mutation. The mosquito gets in touch with the insecticide through its integument (legs, wings), it then changes the configuration of the gene that recognises the insecticide so that the site of recognition of the mosquito changes and the insecticide becomes ineffective.

For the insecticide to be effective, the site of recognition with the mosquito must be identical. So immediately the mosquito changes the site of recognition, the whole system changes and the mosquito is able to survive. If that happens, the mosquito has mutated because genes are involved.

The gene is a heritable material which means that the next generation of mosquitoes will be resistant to the insecticide because it has passed the gene to them and that gene will continue in that population. We, therefore, have an insecticide-resistant gene in the population and the next set of mosquitoes from that line, whether they have been exposed before or not, will be resistant to insecticides.

You know that 350 mosquitoes can come out from one set of eggs. So if out of the 350, 100 survive and have a blood meal and are able to lay eggs, they will go on to produce another 350 mosquitoes each, and there will be an exponential increment in the number of mosquitoes that will be resistant in that population. That is how resistance spreads.

Way forward:

Dr. Awolola advised that all interventions must be evidence-based for them to be effective. “This means that before the intervention, you must have sufficient evidence to show that it will work. You must have collected some baseline information prior to the intervention, but unfortunately, that is not done inNigeria. But things have started changing at the national level because people have seen that you can spend millions of naira and it goes down the drain if you don’t do these things.

We want to scale up our intervention, to have an ambitious coverage. So if you don’t get these fundamental bases of malaria control, then you are running your programme on a faulty start and you will end up having faulty results and faulty intervention and then malaria continues to stay with us. “With insecticide resistance, we are in for it unless we put our house in order to ensure that our interventions are evidence-based.”

He advocated the practice of rotational use of insecticide, saying that “when you identify that the mosquito is resistant to a particular insecticide, you use another class of insecticides becuse the classes have different target sites. But that can be done when you have a programme that is systematic, pragmatic and evidence-based where information are gathered by think-tanks and fuelled into the national bowl for use to formulate policies.”

He noted that there is still a gap between research and policy which needs to be bridged. Harping on the need for surveillance systems that will be able to monitor resistance, he said: “By now, we should have in each geopolitical zone, a centre where they monitor mosquito resistance because malaria is a big issue.

People say that all the time but the will to actually do something about it is not there so we need to put that in place because if that is not in place, sooner or later, these chemicals will become useless, worthless and the issue of malaria becomes more difficult to control, the intervention will no longer be effective and it will be rejected.

“Our research has shown clearly that the resistance issue has continued to increase in Nigeria and if measures are not in place to ensure that it is curtailed, sooner or later, you will see that all these interventions will fail so government needs to put a structure in place, a structure which I refer to as a roadmap to malaria elimination.

That roadmap should be a policy statement from the Federal Government, through the Federal Ministry of Health and the National Malaria Control Programme and we will have a policy in place towards malaria elimination and this roadmap has to be well structured.

It is not something that will happen in two or five years, it might not happen in 10 years but you have timelines and milestones and indicators to show progress. Insecticide resistance is one key issue here; you cannot get malaria eliminated without focusing more on the vectors,” he said.

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