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July 20, 2017: Scientists Plan to Trick Zika-Carrying Mosquitoes into Breeding Themselves Out of Existence

This summer, a Silicon Valley tech company will have millions of machine-raised, bacteria-infected mosquitoes packed into windowless white vans, driven inland and released into the wild — or, at least, the streets of Fresno, Calif.

And, yes, Fresno County officials are encouraging this.

It’s all part of the Debug Fresno project, which aims to cut down on the number of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, an unwelcome invasive species that arrived in California’s Central Valley in 2013. In addition to being potential carriers of the Zika, dengue fever and chikungunya viruses, the Aedes aegypti also adapted rapidly to the area’s residential neighborhoods, to the chagrin of residents and officials alike.

“It’s a terrible nuisance, a terrible biting nuisance. It’s changed the way people can enjoy their back yard and it’s a threat for disease transmission,” said Steve Mulligan, district manager for the region’s Consolidated Mosquito Abatement District. “So we’re looking for new ways to eliminate it.”

To do so, district officials have partnered with tech companies to use an approach that has gained traction in recent years. Inside a lab, millions of the mosquitoes will be infected with Wolbachia bacteria, which changes the reproductive ability of males. Afterward, only those male mosquitoes — which don’t bite — will be released to mate with unsuspecting female Aedes aegypti.

Even if the females lay eggs, those eggs will never hatch. Eventually, officials hope to reduce the population of Aedes aegypti, generation by generation, until they are eliminated from the area.

“It’s kind of contrary to what a person would think. ‘What, you’re doing what? You’re releasing mosquitoes to control mosquitoes?’ " Mulligan said. “We are releasing male mosquitoes because male mosquitoes do not bite and cannot transmit disease.”

If all this sounds like the opening of a sci-fi movie, that’s because the endeavor represents a cross-section of the health-care and technology industries. The “Debug Fresno” project is a continuation of a similar strategy that started last summer, when county officials partnered with Kentucky-based MosquitoMate to release 40,000 Wolbachia-infected male mosquitoes each week in Fresno County.

This year’s mosquitoes are being bred and distributed by Verily, a subsidiary of Alphabet that was formerly known as Google Life Sciences. Verily officials estimate that this year, they will release 1 million mosquitoes per week in Fresno County, more than 25 times last summer’s numbers. That is possible because they’ve developed ways to breed and separate male and female mosquitoes on a larger scale.

“Automated sex-sorting is a key advancement for this research,” Verily spokeswoman Kathleen Parkes said in an email. “Traditionally, mosquito sex-sorting is a very labor-intensive process. Verily has developed a system that uses computer vision algorithms to identify the sex of the mosquitoes and only let the males through.”

Unlike last year, when officials simply opened up cardboard tubes of mosquitoes at fixed points in the county, this year long white vans — emblazoned with the “Debug Fresno” logo — will drive through two neighborhoods in the cities of Fresno and Clovis to make sure the mosquitoes are evenly distributed. Verily officials anticipate that up to 20 million male mosquitoes could be released between now and the fall.

Mulligan said they don’t anticipate eliminating Aedes aegypti would have any negative effects on flora and fauna there because the invasive species is not an essential part of the natural ecosystem in Fresno County.

“Invasive species disrupt and impact the environments into which they invade,” Mulligan said. “We do not expect that reducing or eliminating the populations of Aedes aegypti would have any negative effect on the environment, nor would it harm any insect-eating animals. In fact, the eradication of Aedes aegypti from California would actually have a positive effect on the human environment and on human health.”

Scientists have studied ways to use Wolbachia bacteria to control mosquito populations since the 1980s, but a number of successful field tests have shown its effectiveness in recent years. In 2011, Australian researchers released batches of Wolbachia-infected female mosquitoes around two neighborhoods near Cairns, Queensland, and then monitored the mosquito populations there.

Their goal then had been to stop the spread of the dengue virus — “Wolbachia completely blocks the ability of dengue virus to grow in the mosquito,” Monash University researcher Scott O’Neill explained to The Washington Post’s Brian Vastag — and they found that that strain of Wolbachia had been successful in spreading through 100 percent of the population in one Cairns neighborhood and 90 percent in the other.

As Vastag reported at the time:

That’s because the bacterium is a cunning manipulator of insect reproduction. Somehow — scientists are unsure exactly how — females carrying Wolbachia reproduce more successfully than females that don’t carry it. This evolutionary strategy has been so successful that various strains of Wolbachia infect an estimated 70 percent of all insect species.

Strikingly, though, this evolutionary marvel does not naturally infect the species of mosquito that carries dengue virus, [Aedes aegypti].

So O’Neill and his colleagues set about finding a strain of Wolbachia that could infect Aedes aegypti while simultaneously protecting against dengue virus. They found that strain in their own back yard, inside Australian fruit flies.

An approach closer to the one being tried in Fresno this year was carried out last summer in southern China, where scientists released millions of Wolbachia-infected male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes on Shazai Island in an effort to stem the spread of the Zika virus. As The Post’s May-Ying Lam reported, results were “stunning,” with 99 percent of the population suppressed after a year of tests.

Though there have been no local infections of Zika or dengue reported in California, Mulligan said they want to be prepared in case someone travels back from a country where they were infected. An Aedes aegypti mosquito could easily spread the virus from one person to another, as happened in Florida and parts of Texas last year, he said.

In a video produced to educate Fresno County residents about the project, Jodi Holeman, a director with the region’s mosquito abatement district, agreed.

“Even though they’re not actively and currently transmitting disease in California, it’s our job to try to stay ahead of these diseases,” she said.

Source: The Washington Post

July 11, 2017: The South Texas Diabetes & Obesity Institute is Using Opossums for Zika Research

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley has over one thousand opossums on campus, but this isn’t a pest control problem.

The South Texas Diabetes & Obesity Institute is using the rodent for research that could greatly impact the Rio Grande Valley.

“The intent is to prevent the disease altogether so we don’t ever have to worry about treating them,” John VandeBerg, a professor at the South Texas Diabetes & Obesity Institute.

VandeBerg is collaborating with the UTRGV Department of Biology in developing the laboratory opossum as a model for research on the Zika virus.

“I developed these opossums as a laboratory animal in part because the babies are born at the stage of a six week human embryo so the equivalent stage of a human embryo is six weeks gestation,” VandeBerg said.

Because of the similarity, opossum fetuses can be manipulated experimentally.

“We inoculate these embryos and fetuses with Zika virus and we can study the developmental abnormalities as they develop in the embryos,” he said in an interview with News Center 23’s Marlane Rodriguez.

The possums are not only used for Zika research.

“Another one of our projects involves the control of blood cholesterol when the animals are fed a human like diet,” he said at a laboratory at the UTRGV campus in Brownsville.

The gray short-tailed opossum, native to South America, has the same amount of fat and cholesterol as a North American human diet.

“We’re identifying specific genes that control the ability to prevent blood cholesterol from becoming elevated as we identify these genes they can become targets for therapies in reducing blood cholesterol in susceptible people,” Vandeberg said.

Recent results show that opossums that are infected early in life can develop characteristics that resemble human newborns whose mothers were infected with Zika virus during pregnancy.

Source: RGVproud

July 10, 2017: Miami Sprays Yet Again to Combat Zika

Ground spraying for mosquitoes carrying the Zika Virus will take place this week in Miami-Dade County.

This comes as a new study by Florida International University shows Wynwood businesses lost as much as 40 percent in revenue from last year’s outbreak.

As Miami-Dade prepares to spray Naled this coming week in their fight against the mosquitoes and Zika, new study documents the negative impact Zika had on the Wynwood.

A new study released by FIU’s College of Public Health & Social Work found that last year’s Zika outbreak hit the bottom line of Wynwood businesses.

Some reported losing as much as 40 percent of revenue.

“When Zika was first reported in the area it was like a ghost town,” said Tina Brady with Walt Grace. “I was waiting for Zombies to walk through. A lot of the businesses suffered.”

This business says while they saw the impact of Zika, they have an online presence and that helped them keep their doors open.

The study found that despite declines in revenue few businesses changed their prices, inventories or staff levels.

So far this year, Florida health officials have confirmed 29 travel-related Zika cases in Miami-Dade County but no local infections.

Statewide, health officials have confirmed 72.

Some tourists have no idea there were cases reported in Wynwood, with one saying it wouldn’t affect her decision to visit the area.

“I’m not looking to get pregnant and I don’t feel like [Zika is] something, unless you’re trying to get pregnant, is going to affect you,” said Tisha Dominguez, visiting from Jacksonville.

As rainy season returns to South Florida, public health and medical authorities are being strategic in preventing and responding to outbreaks, with more Naled spraying scheduled from July 11th to the 13th.

This as a Miami Beach Drive files for injunction to stop the spraying, saying Naled is too risky and not enough is known about its potential health effects.

Tourists don’t seem to be too worried about any of this and as for the injunction, a status conference on the complaint is scheduled for July 12th.

July 5, 2017: Mosquitoes That Can Transmit Zika Found in Pasadena

For the first time, eggs from the type of mosquito that can transmit Zika have been found in Pasadena.

Health officials emphasize there are no reported infections as of yet.

The eggs were identified June 21 as those of the Aedes mosquito, commonly called the Asian tiger mosquito, a small insect known for biting during daytime hours, unlike more common mosquitoes that bite at night.

“It is important for the public to be aware of the presence of this mosquito, which is different than the local variety of the insect, and to take steps now to help protect yourself and your family against these mosquitoes,” said Dr. Ying-Ying Goh, the city’s health officer. “We are asking for the public’s help to take immediate action now in preventing the spread of this mosquito, such as eliminating all standing water sources on their property.”

Sightings of the mosquitoes should be reported to the San Gabriel Valley Mosquito & Vector Control District at (626) 814-9466.

The presence of similar mosquitoes was confirmed for the first time in mid-June by officials in Long Beach.

Here are some steps you can take to fight against all types of mosquitoes:

• Empty, scrub clean with hot water, turn over, cover—or throw out—unused outdoor items that hold water, such as tires, buckets, planters, toys, pools, birdbaths or flowerpots.

• Keep swimming pool water clean, sanitized and filtered. Same with ponds or birdbaths.

• Wear insect repellants containing DEET when outdoors.

• Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants when outdoors if weather permits.

• Check window and door screens for holes, repair or replace.

• When traveling, choose lodging that has air conditioning and screens.

Source: ABC 7 Eyewitness News

June 28, 2017: Mosquitoes That Can Carry Zika Spreading in Kansas, CDC Says

The two types of mosquitoes that can carry Zika — and other viruses — have been reported in Kansas.

One type of the mosquitoes has been reported for the first time in 38 Kansas counties, according to a new study by researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Six researchers examined all of the available county-level mosquito surveillance data to follow up on a study they published last year on the range of the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes.

The “yellow fever mosquito,” Aedes aegypti, mainly stayed in the upper northeast corner of the state, including in Wyandotte, Johnson, Douglas and Shawnee counties.

Closer to Wichita, the Aedes albopictus mosquito, also called the “Asian tiger mosquito,” was more common, reported in 38 Kansas counties. It has been found for three or more years in 22 counties, including Kingman, Sedgwick, Butler and Chase. All of the counties bordering Sedgwick had at least one Aedes albopictus reported between 1995 and 2016.

Sedgwick County was initially put on the Aedes aegypti database in error and was later removed.

Joe Conlon, technical adviser for the American Mosquito Control Association, said he was surprised to see the Aedes aegypti in Kansas.

“Aedes aegypti is generally regarded as a coastal mosquito, even though historically it’s been found in the Ohio River Valley,” Conlon said. “I think what this underscores is people need to be apprised of the fact that these mosquitoes and the diseases they transmit are just around the corner and the world is becoming a smaller place.”

Aedes aegypti prefers to feed on humans, making it the most common transmitter of Zika, dengue and chikungunya.

Both types of mosquitoes have been known to carry West Nile virus.

The Aedes albopictus can also transmit dengue fever and chikungunya. However, the mosquito feeds on animals as well as people, making it less likely to spread the various viruses than the Aedes aegypti. Even when an infected mosquito bites a human, it may be less likely to transmit the disease than the Aedes aegypti, Conlon said.

While Aedes albopictus isn’t the mosquito most known for spreading Zika, the Pan American Health Organization did report that 2016 tests found the Zika virus in Aedes albopictus mosquitoes in Mexico.

The CDC researchers emphasized that the presence of the mosquito in a certain county does not mean it’s abundant in that county and that mosquito-borne transmission of Zika has so far been extremely rare in the continental United States.

The 22 cases of Zika reported in Kansas have all been travel-related. The only documented instances of mosquito-borne Zika in the continental U.S. were in Florida and Texas.

Zika is a relatively mild illness except when it occurs during pregnancy, when it can cause the birth defect microcephaly. A study of almost 1,500 pregnant women with Zika in the continental United States found that it caused birth defects in about 5 percent of cases.

“I think what this paper is telling us is how important it is state and local jurisdictions have in place these surveillance networks to detect the presence of these mosquitoes,” CDC spokesman Tom Skinner said.

The best way to keep both the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus from breeding is to empty out any containers holding water, Conlon said. That includes trash cans, dishes under flower pots and birdbaths.

“They don’t breed in ponds, they don’t breed in puddles, they don’t breed in ditches,” Conlon said. “Particularly with Aedes aegypti, they breed in man-made containers filled with water.”

People should also scrape the sides of a dish when they empty the water, making sure to remove any mosquito eggs.

Wear long clothing and use mosquito repellent to avoid being bitten. The Aedes aegypti is attracted to dark clothing, so wearing light-colored clothes also helps, Conlon said.

Of the mosquito-borne illnesses, West Nile virus — most commonly transmitted by the Culex mosquito — is considered much more of a threat in this region. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment is now reporting a high risk of West Nile transmission throughout the state, and the virus is suspected in the death of a Jackson County, Mo., boy last month.

Most people infected with West Nile don’t experience any symptoms, according to the CDC. For about 20 percent of people infected, West Nile can cause a fever, headache, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea or rash. Fatigue can last weeks or months after recovery.

Three cases of West Nile in a human are being investigated now, while one case was confirmed in Barton County.

Source: The Garden City Telegram

June 23, 2017: Zika May Have a Startlingly High Sexual Transmission Rate

When Zika swept across Latin America in 2015, a couple of alarming developments quickly followed: microcephaly in fetuses and a murky association with Guillain-Barré Syndrome. Despite ongoing research, much about the virus remains a mystery, including many details of how it spreads.

Mosquitoes are the most obvious vector, but as far back as 2011, virologists suspected that Zika might also be transmitted sexually, a hunch that was confirmed last year. Still, researchers had no idea how easily the virus could be passed through sexual contact.

Now, a pilot study offers new insights about this hard-to-research transmission route, which could potentially spread the virus to new areas. In the study, 12 out of 16 monkeys exposed to Zika through sexual routes tested positive for the virus.

It’s been nearly impossible to identify sexually transmitted cases in outbreak regions because they’re masked by mosquito-transmitted cases, which has made the potentially important vector practically invisible. On top of that, 80% of Zika infections are asymptomatic, meaning that people may not even know they have the disease and thus might be excluded from data about infection rates.

“The study provides a starting point to where we can start gauging risk,” said lead author Andrew Haddow of the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. To see how transmission rates had been studied in the past, Haddow said his team looked to HIV/AIDS research. As with that research, this initial model will need to be refined to truly understand human risk, he said.

“This is really big news,” said Enbal Shacham, an associate professor of behavioral science and health education at Saint Louis University, who was not involved in the study. Shacham said that because so little is known about how—and how efficiently—Zika is transmitted sexually, any new information is valuable.

The study involved 16 monkeys: eight rhesus and eight cynomolgus macaques. For each group, the researchers exposed four monkeys to Zika by delivering the virus to the vagina and the other four by delivering it to the rectum.

Researchers anesthetized the animals and, using a lubricated feeding tube, administered a single dose of the virus that was comparable to the highest amount reported in human semen. The method was specifically intended to be nontraumatic, avoiding microtears in the tissue. “We wanted to see what happened in an ideal situation,” Haddow said.

Four of the eight monkeys inoculated vaginally became infected (two of each species), while all eight of the individuals inoculated rectally were infected.

“We were pretty surprised by that,” Haddow said, adding that he and his team expected maybe one in four monkeys to become infected.

The new research provides “important proof” that primates can be infected through vaginal and rectal mucous membranes, said Akiko Iwasaki, a professor of immunobiology and molecular, cellular and developmental biology at Yale School of Medicine.

Despite the infections, none of the animals showed symptoms of the disease. Based on the amount and duration of infectious virus in the macaques’ blood, Haddow’s team thinks humans infected through sexual transmission may be capable of infecting mosquitos with the virus.

Haddow and his coauthors conclude that sexual transmission could be a way for the virus to maintain itself in the absence of mosquito transmission, and it might increase the likelihood of Zika spreading into new areas. “The possibility exists that you could have silent transmission, where somebody gets Zika sexually and has no idea,” Haddow said.

Researchers know that animal models have their limitations, though. John Brooks, a medical epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC), said we should be “very circumspect” when translating data from research animals to what it means for humans. Nonetheless, he pointed out that both groups of monkeys in Haddow’s research showed detectable virus in their blood for about the same amount of time it stays in humans.“To me that’s saying, okay, it’s behaving in this animal model like it’s behaving in humans,” Brooks said.

Still, he’s not worried about Zika spreading through sexual transmission alone. “Despite everyone’s concern that Zika could be spreading quietly through the country through sexual transmission, we’re just not seeing it,” Brooks said. “And people would have begun to recognize that by now.”

In the United States, the CDC knows of about 50 couples among whom sexual transmission of Zika has occurred. Researchers think those cases are the tip of an iceberg, Brooks said, adding, “I don’t know how big that iceberg is.”

Based on rough estimates of the number of travelers arriving in the United States from active Zika regions, the CDC estimates that 200,000 affected men could enter the country per year. Brooks says that’s a lot of opportunity for the virus to transition and to be sustained, but that hasn’t been observed. (While Zika can be transmitted from women to men, that’s far less common than men transmitting it to their partners, and there is only one known case of woman-to-man transmission.)

One reason that Zika outbreaks in the U.S. haven’t been traced to sexual transmission could be that, unlike some sexually transmitted diseases which remain infectious until treated (and even after), Zika clears from the system fairly quickly, Brooks said.

“In Zika, your body mounts a really effective immune response,” he said. Within about a month after infection, 50% of men will no longer have Zika in their semen, he said. After 81 days, that number rises to 95%.

While the dose of virus used in Haddow’s study is comparable to what can be found in human semen, Brooks said, “men don’t stay at that level for very long.” The level of Zika in semen declines “rapidly and steadily,” he added, although researchers don’t know at what point someone is no longer infectious. But, he points out, the known cases of sexual transmission in the United States have shown that people who infect their partners generally do so early in their illness—something researchers can determine by the timing of the second person’s illness.

For men who have traveled to an area with active Zika transmission, the CDC recommends abstaining from sex or using a barrier protection method (like a condom) for six months after leaving the area. For women who have traveled, the recommendation is eight weeks.

Haddow’s latest research builds on the legacy of his grandfather—who was one of the discoverers of Zika—as well as his own groundbreaking work. It was Haddow who pieced together clues that Zika might be sexually transmitted.

Despite the new research, the unknowns surrounding Zika extend far beyond its sexual transmission rate. Iwasaki, who has studied Zika in mice, said it can cause shrinking of testes and reduced sperm count in those animals. “Zika virus may be a silent disease with significant reproductive impact in humans for years to come,” she said.

Brooks said it took about 20 years to get the necessary data about HIV to run current models to assess both per-act risk of HIV transmission through various routes and the impact of prevention strategies on specific kinds of transmission.

Additionally, Haddow says there’s a possibility of a so-called sylvatic cycle of Zika, in which monkeys transmit the virus to each other sexually. In this scenario, animal populations could serve as a reservoir of the virus, keeping it alive without human hosts.

“It’s going to take years to investigate this stuff,” Haddow said.

Source: PBS

Powassan Virus Diagnosed in New England and Great Lakes Region

Lyme disease is the most well-known tick-borne disease, and for good reason. Every year, there are estimated 300,000 cases across the United States. One tick-borne disease is popping up in New England and the Great Lakes region this year that you may not be familiar with: the Powassan Virus.

Still rare, the Powassan virus has been getting more news this year than in the past due to new diagnoses. The virus is transmitted through the bite of an infected tick. Six different species of ticks are known to spread the virus, one being the deer tick which also carries Lyme. Powassan, however, can be transmitted much quicker than Lyme. An infected tick needs only minutes of attachment to infect a human with Powassan. It’s believe to take 24 to 48 hours for a tick to transmit Lyme.

Powassan generally is a mild viral infection, but it can be life-threatening in some people. Symptoms include fever, headache, and vomiting. Patients will not display the bull’s eye rash that is associated with Lyme which can make a diagnosis more difficult. In the worst causes it can cause encephalitis (brain swelling).

The best way to protect yourself from tick-borne diseases is to protect yourselves from tick bites. When hiking or spending time in areas where ticks are known to be active, wear long loose pants and long-sleeved shirts. Apply a tick repellent to the clothes and exposed skin and always check yourself for ticks. If you find one, remove the tick with tweezers and place in a plastic bag in case you need to have the tick tested for Powassan, Lyme or other tick-borne illness.

Mosquito Squad offers tick control treatments for the yard reducing properties’ tick population. It’s done in two stages. The first is through tick tubes. These are placed throughout the yard when nymph ticks are most active (early spring and late fall). Using mice as a carrier for the treatment, ticks are eliminated when they bite a field mouse (this will not harm the mice).

The second step is proactive tick sprays throughout the year. The treatment eliminates mosquitoes and adult ticks on contact and is applied to areas where ticks are known to harbor on residential properties. We suggest a seasonal package for ultimate protection.

If you want to decrease the tick population in your yard, please contact your local Squad.

June 5, 2017: Australian Plant Extract Can Kill Zika Virus: Study

In a breakthrough, scientists have discovered a group of naturally occurring compounds in an Australian native plant that can effectively kill the Zika virus.

Tests confirmed the compounds halted the virus and stopped it from replicating without damage to host mammalian cells, researchers said.

“Our plaque assays found that the extract from this fairly common native plant killed 100 per cent of the Zika infection in cells,” said lead researcher Trudi Collet from Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Australia.

“It is also exciting because of the implications of this work for other viruses. Zika, Dengue, West Nile, Japanese Encephalitis and Yellow Fever are all from the same family of viruses – flaviviridae,” Collet said.

“From here, we will work to identify the compounds over the next three to six months, synthesise them and then test them against these other viruses too,” said Collet.

According to USA Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there was a 20-fold increase in the number of birth defects in women infected with Zika last year, researchers said.

“Zika is becoming more prevalent in developed countries and, once contracted, the virus has been shown to remain in human sperm for six months,” said Mark Baldock, chairman, Health Focus Products Australia (HFPA), which collaborated with QUT for the study.

“This breakthrough brings new hope that we could one day eliminate the virus from people who contract it in the very early stages and remove that prolonged danger and uncertainty,” said Baldock.

“The research is in the early stages, but we are aiming to ultimately synthesise the compounds in question and turn our attention to preclinical testing,” Collet said.

Zika is a virus that is closely related to dengue and is spread by mosquitoes and by human sexual activity.

While most people experience a very mild infection without any complications, recent outbreaks of the Zika virus in the Pacific and the Americas show that it can be passed from a woman to her unborn baby and potentially cause serious birth defects.

Source: Business Standard

May 31, 2017: A Look Back. Miami's Zika Outbreak Began Months Before It Was First Detected.

Last year’s Zika outbreak in Miami likely started in the spring of 2016, with the virus introduced multiple times before it was detected, researchers say. And most of those cases originated in the Caribbean.

The study, published Wednesday in Nature, examined more than 250 cases of local Zika transmission in three Miami neighborhoods. Researchers analyzed 39 Zika virus genomes isolated from 32 people who had been infected and seven Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, the species that carries Zika.

Comparison of differences in those genomes finds the virus was introduced by travelers at least four and perhaps as many as 40 different times as early as March 2016. Local transmission of Zika wasn’t confirmed in Miami until late July.

The study concludes that Miami’s Zika outbreak was caused mostly by infected travelers arriving from the Caribbean, the region with the highest incidence of the disease.

“Miami and South Florida particularly had this correspondence of lots of travelers from the Caribbean as well as high densities of Aedes aegypti that could support local transmission,” says Derek Cummings, a professor of biology at the University of Florida and one of the study authors. “Both the genetics and the travel data supported that the majority of locally acquired Zika cases were coming from Caribbean origin.”

Some 3 million travelers from the Caribbean arrived in Miami between January and June last year. The majority, 2.4 million, arrived aboard cruise ships. The researchers caution that doesn’t mean cruise ships are risk factors for Zika transmission, only that they are a major mode of transportation from areas where the disease was active.

According to the study, Miami is one of the few places in the continental U.S. with enough foreign travelers and a high enough density of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes to be at risk for Zika. The study authors say they think Florida is unlikely to see another Zika outbreak unless it’s sparked by one elsewhere in the Americas.

While Zika remains active and continues to be spread in areas with high numbers of Aedes aegypti, outbreaks appear to have peaked in many areas.

Brazil is reporting that Zika cases are down by 95 percent from last year and has declared an end of its public health emergency. Cummings says: “Cases in the Americas are on the decline compared to last year. So we might see fewer cases just because there are fewer cases happening in the rest of the hemisphere.”

The Miami study is one of three featured this week in Nature using genomic analysis to trace the spread of the Zika virus through the Americas.

In a commentary, Michael Worobey, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona, says this kind of analysis needs to become part of the first-line response to future infectious disease outbreaks. “We should be detecting such outbreaks within days or weeks through routine, massive, sequence-based approaches,” he writes, “not months or years later, when clinical symptoms have accumulated.”

Source: NPR

May 29, 2017: Baltimore Unveils Zika Preparedness Plan

Baltimore City officials announced they are taking a citywide approach to combat the spread of Zika virus and other mosquito-borne illnesses.

The Zika virus is spread by mosquito bites or unprotected sex and is linked to serious birth defects.

“Ensuring that our city is safe from mosquitos and the diseases that they carry is dependent upon the collaboration of residents, community organizations, businesses, and city agencies,” Mayor Catherine Pugh said in a statement. “I encourage everyone to do their part to help keep our loved ones healthy.”

Health officials said there have been 5,274 confirmed cases of Zika in the U.S., including 224 locally-transmitted cases in Florida and Texas, through April. There have been 15 cases reported in Baltimore, all of which included individuals who traveled to an area with active Zika transmission and contracted the virus there.

“There are two mosquitoes that carry Zika, and both types of mosquitoes can be found in this area,” Baltimore City Health Commissioner Leana Wen said. “For that reason, we need to be prepared in case Zika comes to Maryland as a locally-transmitted infection.”

Zika cannot be transmitted via casual contact, but can be transmitted through sexual contact. It can also be transmitted from a pregnant mother to her baby, health officials said.

Health officials said that most people who are infected with Zika do not show symptoms, which can include red eyes, joint pain, rash and fever, but can still pass the virus on to others.

One of the biggest dangers surrounding Zika is to pregnant women, who can spread the virus to their unborn child. The virus then can cause microcephaly, a serious birth defect that causes abnormally small heads and severe brain damage.

“Zika requires an all-hands-on-deck response. Every resident can help keep Zika and other diseases out of Baltimore by eliminating mosquito breeding grounds in their communities and taking precautions to prevent mosquito bites,” Wen said in a statement. “Prevention and education are critical because there is no vaccine or cure for Zika. The effects of this virus could devastate generations to come, so we must be vigilant and act now.”

Vector control is the No. 1 weapon.

“If there’s one thing you think about doing today, encourage everyone to eliminate standing water in your communities,” said Terry Hickey, with the Mayor’s Office of Human Services.

“And then to actually go out and use the approved materials and products at our sites to spray to keep mosquito proliferation at a minimum,” said Michael Braverman, with Baltimore City Housing.

City officials offered the following tips to help stop the spread of Zika and other diseases transmitted by mosquitoes:

Eliminate mosquito breeding areas: The type of mosquito that carries Zika only needs a bottle cap full of water to breed. Residents should eliminate all standing water around their homes and in their communities by removing any standing water in buckets, coolers or old tires; covering trash cans and keep recycling bins flipped over; clearing roof gutters; and treating birdbaths, ponds, or any outdoor still water with larvicide tablets.

Take extra caution while pregnant and before conceiving: Those planning to visit areas where Zika transmission is active should make sure to use insect repellent, wear light-weight long sleeves and pants, and treat their clothes with permethrin. Pregnant women should postpone trips to areas with active Zika transmission until after their pregnancy.
Protect homes from mosquitoes: Whenever possible, keep screens on all windows, shut doors and windows without screens, use air conditioning and repair damaged or torn holes in screens. When outside, use an EPA-registered insect repellent. Residents can also call 311 if they see standing water in their neighborhood for four days or more and cannot find a way to remove it themselves.

Protect homes from mosquitoes: Whenever possible, keep screens on all windows, shut doors and windows without screens, use air conditioning and repair damaged or torn holes in screens. When outside, use an EPA-registered insect repellent. Residents can also call 311 if they see standing water in their neighborhood for four days or more and cannot find a way to remove it themselves.

Take steps to prevent the spread of diseases after travel: After traveling to an area with Zika, use insect repellent for three weeks. To prevent sexual transmission, women who travel to an area with Zika should use condoms for eight weeks after they return, and all men should use condoms for six months after they return, regardless of whether they show symptoms.

Source: WBAL NBC TV

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