Zika Virus: Green Zealots, Black Deaths

GWPF | 2 Feb 2016

Don’t Panic. Kill Mosquitoes

The world is facing a public-health emergency. According to the World Health Organization, the Zika virus, a horrific disease that causes malformation of infants, is now “spreading explosively.” A cure for Zika is not known, and it could take decades to find one. But there is something that can be done now to stop the epidemic. Zika is spread by mosquitoes, which can be exterminated by pesticides. The most effective pesticide is DDT. If the Zika catastrophe is to be prevented in time, we need to use it. So now the question is: Will the environmental bureaucrats continue to block the use of essential life-saving pesticides, and thereby cause an even worse global catastrophe that will go on for generations? The outlook isn’t hopeful. As history shows, to the leaders the Green movement, black lives don’t matter. They have chosen to allow millions of the world’s poorest to continue to suffer and die from malaria, and they are doing everything they can to stop the elimination of vitamin-deficiency diseases by genetically enhanced foods. –Robert Zubrin, National Review, 30 January 2016


Mosquito reproduction cages at Oxitec, which has developed genetically engineered mosquitoes to curtail the spread of diseases. CreditCristiano Burmester for The New York Times

Every weekday at 7 a.m., a van drives slowly through the southeastern Brazilian city of Piracicaba carrying a precious cargo — mosquitoes. More than 100,000 of them are dumped from plastic containers out the van’s window, and they fly off to find mates.

But these are not ordinary mosquitoes. They have been genetically engineered to pass a lethal gene to their offspring, which die before they can reach adulthood. In small tests, this approach has lowered mosquito populations by 80 percent or more.

The biotech bugs could become one of the newest weapons in the perennial battle between humans and mosquitoes, which kill hundreds of thousands of people a year by transmitting malariadengue fever and other devastating diseases and have been called the deadliest animal in the world.

“When it comes to killing humans, no other animal even comes close,” Bill Gates, whose foundation fights disease globally, has written.

The battle has abruptly become more pressing by what the World Health Organization has called the “explosive” spread of the mosquito-borne Zika virus through Brazil and other parts of Latin America. Experts say that new methods are needed because the standard practices — using insecticides and removing the standing water where mosquitoes breed — have not proved sufficient.

“After 30 years of this kind of fight, we had more than two million cases of dengue last year in Brazil,” said Dr. Artur Timerman, an infectious disease expert in São Paulo. “New approaches are critically necessary.”

But the new efforts have yet to be proved, and it would take some years to scale them up to a meaningful level. An alternative to mosquito control, a vaccine against Zika, is not expected to be available soon.

So for now, experts say, the best modes of prevention are to intensify use of the older methods of mosquito control and to lower the risk of being bitten using repellents and by wearing long sleeves.

Women are being advised to not get pregnant and to avoid infested areas if pregnant, since the virus is strongly suspected of causing babies to be born with abnormally small heads and damaged brains.

One old method that is not getting serious attention would be to use DDT, a powerful pesticide that is banned in many countries because of the ecological damage documented in the 1962 book “Silent Spring.” Still, it is being mentioned a bit, and some experts defend its use for disease control.

“That concern about DDT has to be reconsidered in the public health context,” said Dr. Lyle R. Petersen, director of the division of vector-borne diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He said the damage to fish and wildlife stemmed from widespread outdoor use of DDT in agriculture, not the use of small amounts on walls inside homes to kill mosquitoes.

Other experts say the old methods can work if applied diligently.

“We’ve had great success using old methods for the last 50, 60 years,” said Dr. Peter J. Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine. “We just need to be very aggressive and exercise political will.” […]

Full story

4) This Is How To Stop The Zika Virus
MIT Technology Review, 29 January 2016

Michael Reilly

The Zika virus is out of control. Earlier this week, the World Health Organization called it an “explosive” epidemic, and officials in Brazil, the country hardest hit by the disease, have admitted that they are “losing badly” to the disease. Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff went so far as to declare war on Aedes aegypti, the mosquito that transmits Zika. Officials in several other countries in the region have asked women to consider not getting pregnant until the epidemic is brought under control.

The good news is this: we know how to fight mosquitoes, and our arsenal is growing bigger by the day. In her declaration, Rousseff said she will dispatch over 200,000 troops throughout Brazil to enact tried and tested methods of combatting mosquito populations. That includes spraying insecticides, eliminating pools of standing water, and educating the public. These methods work: in 1942 Brazil undertook a campaign to eradicate A. aegypti across the country, largely in response to yellow fever. Countries throughout South America, Central America, and the Caribbean joined in, as did the Rockefeller Foundation in the U.S., and by 1962 Brazil and 17 other countries were free of the mosquitoes.

But such methods also take time, and time is not on our side for fighting a disease that has spread as far as it has despite only arriving in the Western hemisphere in 2014. As the situation worsens, several technological approaches may start to look appealing.

The first is rather mundane: cell phones. Cell phones are useful because they record the movements of their owners. That data can be used to track disease hot spots and predict where they may flare up next. The technique has already been employed in Africa in the battle against malaria and in Pakistan against dengue fever—both mosquito-borne diseases like Zika.

Genetically modified mosquitoes could also have a role to play. Successful tests in the Cayman Islands and Brazil have shown that the introduction of modified male mosquitoes can cause local populations to crash. But these tests, conducted by the British firm Oxitec, have so far been on the scale of a few neighborhoods. Ramping up the process to cover all of Brazil would require a huge logistical effort to grow and distribute the modified insects.

Then there is the gene drive. This newly developed technology involves inserting genes into an organism in such a way that a trait spreads throughout a whole population. In theory, a gene drive could be created that prevents mosquitoes from incubating Zika virus—or destroys the entire species of A. aegypti. A gene drive has been created that prevents mosquitoes from harboring the malaria parasite. But some researchers are understandably concerned about intentionally messing with natural selection. Once a drive is released into a wild population, there is no turning back, and there is no telling what sort of side effects it might have.

Ultimately, it is unlikely that any one method will stop Zika in its tracks. Winning this war is possible—it has been done before. But it will take an effort the likes of which we have not seen for almost half a century, and perhaps some brand-new technology.

5) In The Wake Of The Zika Virus, Should Humans Try To Eradicate Mosquitoes?
Atlas Obscura, 31 January 2016

Jessie Guy-Ryan


A worker sprays DDT directly into a water supply during the National Malaria Eradication Program. (Photo: CDC Public Health Image Library, ID#4684)

Mosquitoes might just be the most unpopular insect on Earth. At their most harmless, they cause infuriatingly itchy welts, ruining barbecues and birthday parties around the globe. At their worst, they’re vectors for serious diseases like malaria, Dengue fever, West Nile virus, and the Zika virus, which experts now think may be a bigger threat to global health than the recent Ebola epidemic.

The threat is so severe that some, such as Wellcome Trust head of infection and immunobiology Mike Turner, are advocating the use of DDT—long banned in the United States and elsewhere due to its environmental and health risks—to eliminate the mosquito species’ that serve as carriers of the virus.

This weekend, a few pundits have taken things one step further by calling for the eradication of all mosquitoes.

Purposefully eradicating an entire species sounds outrageous, but we already use a variety of strategies to control mosquito population growth. Famously, in 1947, the U.S. carried out the National Malaria Eradication Program, blanketing the southeast in DDT and eradicating malaria in the U.S. in just four years.

Today, New Yorkers and other urbanites are likely familiar with local pesticide-spraying events to combat the spread of West Nile virus and other mosquito-borne illnesses. And looking forward, many scientists are moving beyond pesticide and looking to genetically modify mosquitoes to control—or even eliminate—certain populations. The modifications come in a variety of flavors; one team modified mosquitoes’ smell receptors, eliminating their ability to smell nearby humans.

Professor Anthony James and colleagues at UC Irvine modified Aedes aegypti so that female mosquitoes were born without wings, crippling their ability to survive and reproduce. Right now, mosquitoes possessing a lethal gene that prevents them from reaching adulthood are being released in Brazil to reduce mosquito numbers and, hopefully, control the spread of the Zika virus.

Humans have shown an aptitude for unwittingly driving other species to extinction, but should we really turn our talents towards purposeful eradication? Some scientists have argued that the consequences of allowing mosquitoes to live outweigh any dangers posed by removing them from the ecosystem. Carlos Brisola Marcondes, a medical entomologist, tells Nature unequivocally that a world without mosquitoes would be “more secure for us,” and biologist Olivia Judson argued in theNew York Times that other insects could easily replace mosquitoes’ role in any ecological niche. But each of these arguments have a counter—entomologist Phil Lounibus points out that whatever replaces the mosquito could be “equally, or more, undesirable from a public health viewpoint”.

Even if the idea seems sound from a biological perspective, many are ethically squeamish about purposefully eliminating another species. That might be why some scientists have focused on less murderous ways to lessen the health impacts of mosquitoes. The Kew Royal Botanical Gardens is working on a project to track harmful mosquitoes with acoustic devices, and James has moved on from removing wings to genetically modifying mosquitoes so they can’t spread disease.

Regardless of whether you think mosquitoes should be driven from the Earth, or simply made a little less dangerous, large-scale implementation of these strategies is probably a long way off; but the next time you find yourself scratching, take comfort in the fact that future could hold a mosquito-free world.

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