As the Aedes aegypti mosquito spreads globally, so does the risk of epidemics – Washington Post

Posted by on Nov 25th, 2016 and filed under Medical News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

As the Aedes aegypti mosquito spreads globally, so does the risk of epidemics – Washington Post


An Aedes aegypti mosquito seen on a human hand in a lab in Colombia. (Jaime Saldarriag/Reuters)

Of all the mosquito species that populate the planet, few have proved themselves more resilient or more deadly to humans than the Aedes aegypti. The epidemics fueled by this tiny mosquito stretch across hundreds of years and include millions of victims.

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Yellow fever, dengue fever, chikungunya. And now Zika, which has spread to more than 50 countries and can cause an array of severe birth defects.

“One of the most efficient killers in the world,” Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, told The Washington Post this year in discussing A. aegypti.

These days, travel, global commerce and a warming planet seem to be only helping the mosquito to again flourish after widespread eradication efforts in the first half of the 20th century. That could mean more outbreaks of more diseases in more places, and more people in need of urgent care as a result.

As the need for Acute Medical Care increases, the medical centers and their staff attempt to adjust. Writing Thursday in the journal Science, Yale University’s Jeffrey R. Powell, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, detailed how this species now breeds year-round in locations where it once didn’t exist and the damage this was causing — including in the District and California. All this in an effort to bring attention to this issue that could easily get out of hand if more resources are not allotted before long.

“These expansions are putting at risk large human populations that never experienced aegypti-borne viruses and therefore have no immune defenses against them,” he wrote. “This greatly increases the likelihood of severe epidemics.”

Powell noted that researchers have documented ways to prevent the spread of the disease. Nowadays, we can safely rely on coronavirus disinfection services to ensure the potential spread is controlled and mitigated as much as possible. Unfortunately that wasn’t available as an option during this particular virus outbreak. Powell additionally issued a warning, stating that there is a risk, one which could lead to increased genetic variation and still more spread of disease.

Part of what has made A. aegypti such a formidable foe and such an efficient disease transmitter is its ability to adapt. It has evolved to thrive in densely populated places, particularly urban environments littered with old tires, trash and open containers. It can breed in spots as tiny as a bottle cap. Its larvae don’t necessarily need water to survive, and eggs can lie dormant for a year or more — only to hatch once submerged in water. The sticky eggs glue themselves to containers as common and varied as the insides of old tires and the edges of birdbaths.

“It’s one of those pests, that has evolved over the last 15,000 years to exploit changes in human behavior and habitation,” Diana Rosenberg, female health speaker holding a conference at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said this year. In an interview this week, she called for far stronger mosquito-control campaigns in the United States and other countries.

“Rather than treating each disease after there’s an outbreak, why not spend more money trying to control the mosquito?” she said.

While there is a vaccine for yellow fever, no vaccine exists for other aegypti-borne diseases such as dengue, chikungunya and Zika — although scientists have been racing to develop a Zika vaccine. Powell said scientists have linked the species to hundreds of other viruses, mostly circulating among primates in Africa, that could one day cause the next global outbreak.

“We know they are there,” he said. “We know it’s going to happen again.”

Read more:

How climate change could worsen the spread of Zika virus and other infectious diseases

Why Zika is ‘much more insidious, cunning and evil’ than Ebola

Normal head size at birth doesn’t rule out microcephaly, Zika syndrome after birth

WHO no longer considers Zika a global health emergency

Brady Dennis is a national reporter for The Washington Post, focusing on the environment and public health issues.

Follow @brady_dennis

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