Beware the tick! Lyme disease on the march thanks to this mouse

So what is the most common disease spread by a blood-sucking insect in the United States?

Malaria, Zika, yellow fever? These mosquito-transmitted diseases don’t come close to the mighty black-legged tick and Lyme Disease. The Centers for Disease Control estimate that a whopping 30,000 cases annually.

And while more prevalent in the Northeast and the numbers are not huge, 30 percent of all Lyme disease is transmitted in Florida. The CDC reports that Lyme disease is the fastest-growing infectious disease in the U.S. with the number of cases reported annually increasing nearly 25 fold since 1982.

And now the concern is not so much the tick itself, but the white-footed mouse that is expanding its territory in the U.S. and is a carrier of the bacterium that is transmitted by the insect. If left untreated, Lyme disease can spread to joints, the heart and the nervous system.

The website fivethirtyeight.com is known for its political acumen, but today it is reporting on rodents of the four-legged variety.

The white-footed mouse is the top reservoir of Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. And the cute little bugger has expanded its range to 41 states and is knocking on the door of Florida.

The white-foot mouse, which carries the bacterium that causes Lyme disease, is expanding its footprint in the U.S.

Scientists have linked an abundance of acorns to an increase in these mice and thus an increase in Lyme disease in people.

Kevin Esvelt, an evolutionary engineer at MIT, wants to edit the mice’s DNA to make them unable to pass bacteria and viruses to ticks.

“When engineering a complex system, you should always make the smallest possible change that could solve the problem,” Esvelt said. “For tick-borne disease, that means preventing the ticks from being infected by white-footed mice.”

Want more information? Check out the extensive report at Five Thirty Eight.com

(Featured photo courtesy of CDC)

Could a Zika vaccine be too expensive?

One thing is for certain, where there is a pandemic, there is money to be made.

A French pharmaceutical company will do the final testing for a Zika vaccine developed last year by the U.S. Army at taxpayer expense, National Public Radio is reporting. If the testing goes well, the company will set the price for the U.S. market.

The question is: Will state governments be able to afford the French company’s asking price for a vaccine that U.S. Army helped bring to fruition?

Rebekah Gee, Louisiana’s secretary of health, told NPR that her state is in the middle of a financial crisis and is looking at cutting money allocated to fight the Zika virus carried mainly by the Aedes aegypti — the B-52 of mosquitos.

“God forbid we have a Zika outbreak,” she told NPR.

The virus can inflict devastating birth defects for fetuses, including microencephaly, in which babies are born with underdeveloped brains and small heads. More birth defects related to the virus are expected in 2017 in Florida and throughout the U.S.

The total number of Zika cases reported in Florida in 2016 was 1,384. The total number of Zika cases reported in Florida for 2017 so far is 18.

Mosquito spraying was stepped up last summer once Zika hit Florida. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention suggest that because the full effects of the virus are unknown, all pregnant women infected with Zika should receive postnatal imaging and a comprehensive newborn physical exam and hearing screen until a vaccine can be marketed.

The U.S. Army plans to grant an exclusive license to Sanofi Pasteur, Inc. to manufacture and sell the vaccine after it testing. Gee said the French pharmaceutical giant could set a price that is too high for states like Louisianna.

NPR reports that Gee is just one among a growing number of public officials and activists expressing concern. They want Sanofi to agree in writing to show restraint when it sets the price for the vaccine.

Doctors without Borders and Knowledge Ecology International have asked the Army to delay granting Sanofi the exclusive license until the company agrees to reasonable price terms. Former Democratic Presidential candidate, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards have

Former Democratic Presidential candidateU.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards have also asked the Army to get such a guarantee.

“If the American public funds the life-saving intervention, we need price protections for states that have to foot the bill,” Gee says.

Louisianna is in such a tight financial bind, Gee says, lawmakers will have to choose between funding for K-12 education and the Zika vaccine.

Jamie Love, director of Knowledge Ecology International, a non-profit public interest group, said the inventors of the vaccine are all federal employees whose salaries are paid by the U.S. taxpayer. Furthermore, the U.S. Army did all the Phase I research and testing so there is no research and development cost to Sanofi.

Sanofi told NPR that it has incurred a substantial cost, dedicating 60 scientists full time to the Zika vaccine.

If plans remain, the Department of Health and Human Services will give Sanofi $43 million for a Phase II trial. This will determine the success rate of the vaccine and any side-effects. If the vaccine passes, then the agency will then give another $130 million to Sanofi for a Phase III trial.

To read all of the NPR story on the Health News Florida website, click here.

Germ warfare! Zika mosquito to be infected with bacteria

Turn-about appears to be fair play with the newest plan to combat the mosquito carrying the Zika virus.

We will infect them before they can infect us.Mosquito

Health News Florida reports that the initial trial – starting next March – to use bacteria to combat the Aedes aegypti mosquito has been approved for Florida Keys. The mosquito also carries dengue fever and chikingunya.

The Wolbachia bacteria is a genus of bacteria that infect a high proportion of insects and offers an alternative to pesticide spraying.  When a male Aedes aegypti mosquito with Wolbachia mates with a female, the eggs don’t hatch.

“It’s a benign, effective process that has gone through significantly more scrutiny than genetically modified mosquitoes,” said Ed Russo, chairman of the Florida Keys Environmental Coalition. “Wolbachia has the broad support of all the people in the Florida Keys.

 

 

New ways to combat the pests are needed because fewer insecticides and pesticides are available, said Beth Ranson, spokeswoman for the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District.  The Aedes aegypti population in Key West is also showing signs of resistance to some of the existing treatments, she said.

“We’re going to look at every available tool that’s out there that’s approved for us to try,” she said.

Zika virus has been linked to serious birth defects, including microcephaly, a birth defect where a baby’s head is smaller than expected.

In total, Florida has reported 1,031 Zika infections this year, with 179 local cases and 847 travel-related cases, including 108 pregnant women.

 

To read the full Health News Florida report click here.

Horse put down after contracting encephalitis from mosquito

Zika isn’t the only mosquito-borne illness that is rearing its head in Palm Beach County and causing concern, according to TheHorse.com.

The Equine Disease Communication Center reported on Tuesday  that a young Arabian horse from Palm Beach County had to be euthanized after contracting Eastern equine encephalitis — or EEE.

2763963551_0b65e20084_q
Why the long face? A young Arabian horse in Palm Beach County has been put down after contracting from a mosquito the virus that causes Eastern equine encephalitis.

“The 14-month-old, vaccinated Arabian had just moved within the county but had not been outside Palm Beach County since birth,” the EDCC statement said. “Clinical signs began on May 31 and the horse was euthanized for humane reasons the same day.”

This is the first confirmed EEE case in Palm Beach County and the fourth confirmed case in Florida for 2016, the EDCC reported.

EEE is a viral disease that affects the central nervous system and is transmitted to horses by infected mosquitoes. Horses with EEE show symptoms of a moderate to high fever, depression, lack of appetite, among other things.

The disease is almost always fatal.

The report did not say where in Palm Beach County that the infected horse resided.

There is a vaccine for EEE and experts encourage horse owners to consult with their veterinarian in case their animals needs a booster shot.

Gov. Scott calls on federal government to handle Zika like a hurricane

Gov. Rick Scott said today that the federal government must address the Zika virus threat like an incoming hurricane.

He made the statement prior to travel to Washington D.C. next week to meet with congressional leaders on the issue. Treating Zika like a catastrophe triggers triggers specific preparation and response efforts by the federal government.

Mosquito-Zika-virus-jpg
Aedes aegypti is the mosquito that carries the Zika virus.

“Florida has now had more than 100 documented cases of the Zika virus,” he said. “We are now headed into summer, when heat and rainfall cause our mosquito population to grow.”

South Florida remains a likely place in the U.S. for a Zika virus outbreak by the mosquito Aedes aegypti.

The Zika virus has been linked to a range of birth defects, including a condition which causes children to be born with abnormally small heads and underdeveloped brains and Guillain-Barré syndrome, which can lead to paralysis.

Currently, there are no native-borne cases in Florida. All infections involve travelers to South America.

Gov. Scott expressed concern that the Olympic summer games in Brazil will heavily increase travel to a country where the Zika virus is spreading rapidly.

Governor Rick Scott holds a brief press conference at Palm Beach International Airport announcing his order for Florida National Guard recruiters to work from nearby armories after attacks in Tennessee on July 18, 2015. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)
Governor Rick Scott says the federal government needs to address the Zika virus like a natural disaster.

“Like the movements of a hurricane, many things about the Zika virus are still unknown,” he said.

“We don’t yet know for certain what will happen with this virus, but we owe our citizens a vigorous and thorough preparation effort at the federal level to best protect their health.”

 

The good news and bad news on Zika in the U.S.

So the bad news on the Zika virus is that that the United States is likely to see an outbreak. But Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, tells the news service Reuters it will be limited to perhaps dozens of people

Mosquito-Zika-virus-jpg
The bad news is that health officials do expect some native cases of Zika in the United States. The good news the cases might be a few dozen.

So far the U.S. has about  350 cases of people who were infected abroad and then returned to the country. There has not been a native case of the disease carried by the Aedes aegypti mosquito in North America yet.

For most people with Zika experience fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes. But when the outbreak was first detected in Brazil last year, the concern has been with thousands of cases of microcephaly, a typically rare birth defect marked by unusually small head size which often indicates poor brain development.

The World Health Organization declared a global health emergency in February.

“It is likely we will have what is called a local outbreak,” Fauci said on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace.

Some Florida counties are gearing up by adding staff to mosquito control staff, Health News Florida

Orange County, for instance, wants to add 10 seasonal full-time workers to respond to calls, according to Health News Florida.

Fauci had more bad news for us by saying that other neurological ailments could be eventually linked to Zika, which he called “disturbing.”

“There are only individual case reports of significant neurological damage to people not just the fetuses but an adult that would get infected. Things that they call meningoencephalitis, which is an inflammation of the brain and the covering around the brain, spinal cord damage due to what we call myelitis,” he said. “So far they look unusual, but at least we’ve seen them and that’s concerning.”

So, whether it’s just a few cases or not, get ready dear readers for the Summer of Zika.