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Blog | July 2017

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

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