This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at: john.weeks@sdsu.edu

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Weaponized Mosquitos May be Headed Your Way

Malaria continues to be one of the biggest killers of humans in the world, and since mosquito bites are the method by which the malaria parasite infects a human, controlling mosquitos is a big deal. And, of course, mosquitos help spread other deadly diseases besides malaria, including dengue fever and the Zika virus. Over the years I have often blogged about both mosquitos and malaria--most recently in April of this year on World Malaria Day, when I discussed a new malaria vaccine being introduced. Last week we had yet another development, as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved the release of what are called "weaponized mosquitos" in 20 U.S. states.
The US Environmental Protection Agency has given its approval for MosquitoMate, a Kentucky-based biotechnology company, to release its bacteria-infected male mosquitoes in several parts of the United States.
The company’s lab-grown mosquitoes, which it calls ZAP males, are infected with the Wolbachia bacteria, naturally occurring in many insects, but not in Aedes aegypti, a vector for viruses such as yellow fever, dengue and Zika. When bacteria-infected males mate with uninfected females, the females produce eggs that don’t hatch. In addition, infected mosquitoes are less likely to spread disease.
Entomologist Stephen Dobson, CEO of MosquitoMate, told Quartz that the company could start selling the infected mosquitoes in the summer for use by municipal bodies and individual homeowners. The male mosquitoes don’t bite, which should make the release of these insects sound less alarming. 
The 20 approved states are California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, and West Virginia, as well as Washington, DC. The permitted states include mostly those with similar weather conditions to Kentucky, New York, and California, states where the company earlier conducted trials.
While companies like MosquitoMate are trying to make mosquitos less dangerous, a report today from Nature News suggests that an old-fashioned anti-malaria strategy is being brought back in Africa:
In a sea of high-tech malaria fixes — everything from drug-delivery by drone to gene-edited mosquitoes — an old-fashioned approach is saving thousands of children in West Africa, according to studies presented this week at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH) meeting in Baltimore, Maryland. 
The measure, called seasonal malaria chemoprevention, involves giving children a dose of antimalarial drugs once each month in the rainy season to prevent the disease in hard-hit regions. Researchers have previously demonstrated this strategy in large clinical trials but they had feared that their positive results wouldn’t be replicated in the messy, real world, because chemoprevention requires thousands of local health workers to deliver drugs to children in villages far from hospitals, pharmacies and paved roads.
I personally have always taken anti-malaria drugs with me to Africa, and the idea that these drugs could help save children from malaria through this selective dosage strategy is very intriguing. We are still at that stage where we have employ all of the "weapons" we can. 

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