Health officials have confirmed 26 cases of dengue fever in Hawaii?s first outbreak of the mosquito-borne disease in more than 50 years. Our warming climate means that disease-bearing mosquitoes will be likely to move north, bringing with them diseases that have traditionally been seen only much closer to the equator.
The Dengue Fever outbreak is not believed to be related to any sort of bioterrorism. Dengue Fever is not considered a bio weapon. It must be communicated to the human body by mosquitos.
All of the cases in Hawaii confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have occurred on Maui. More than 100 suspected cases are being tested on Hawaii, Maui, Oahu and Kauai. Health Director Bruce Anderson is confident that the outbreak will be controlled and says, ?We caught the problem early.?
Oahu Mayor Jeremy Harris says refuse crews will begin picking up any discarded items that collect water and are potential breeding places for mosquito larvae. Similar efforts will begin soon on Maui and Kauai.
Dengue fever causes severe headaches, fever and rashes. There is no vaccine or specific treatment for the disease.
Dengue fever infects about 50 million people each year all over the world. The more severe dengue hemorrhagic fever is a leading cause of infant deaths in several Asian countries.
In the past few years, the biggest headlines about mosquito-borne diseases in the Northern Hemisphere have concerned West Nile Virus. But experts say other diseases pose as much danger, or even more.
Yellow fever remains a public health threat in South America and parts of Africa, with about 200,000 cases each year and 30,000 deaths. Lymphatic filariasis, while not usually life-threatening, can damage the lymph system and kidneys. It can lead to swelling and elephantiasis, the hardening and thickening of the skin. Eastern equine encephalitis killed a 9-year-old boy in the Florida Panhandle. ?By far, Eastern equine encephalitis is the more dangerous of the mosquito-borne diseases that really deserves the coverage,? says Jonathan Day, a professor of medical entomology at the University of Florida?s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences in Vero Beach. ?It is a really nasty disease and much more threatening if you get it.?
Symptoms of Eastern equine encephalitis range from a mild flu-like illness to coma or death, and it can cause long-term neurological damage, including blurred vision and impaired mental ability. More than 150 cases have been confirmed in humans since 1964, according to the CDC. A vaccine is available for horses but not for humans.
Another threat comes from St. Louis encephalitis, which is closely related to West Nile virus and is diagnosed in about 130 Americans each year.
Although relatively rare in the United States, malaria is one of the world?s most devastating mosquito-borne diseases. It?s actually caused by a parasite rather than a virus. ?In terms of mortality and morbidity of a specific mosquito-transmitted disease, malaria is by far the worse,? says Dawn Wesson, associate professor of tropical medicine at Tulane University in New Orleans. About 1,200 cases are diagnosed in the United States each year, typically in immigrants and travelers returning from overseas.
Wesson says people should make a habit of avoiding mosquitoes and keeping them from breeding. Precautions include wearing repellent, particularly in the late afternoon and evening when mosquitoes are most prevalent, and eliminating standing water where they can breed. ?Even if you don?t every single year have virally transmitted diseases, they do pop up occasionally,? she says. ?A mosquito bite here and there infrequently is probably not much to worry about, but in terms of heavy exposure, you would probably want to protect yourself.?
To read CNN?s story, click here.
While walking along the bank of a lake in central Africa more than ten thousand years ago, an early human was bit by a small mosquito. This bug bite passed along the deadly disease malaria, which forever changed the course of human evolution. Researchers have recently discovered a gene mutation that gives humans a natural resistance to malaria and shows how disease can shape the human genome.
?This is a striking example of how infectious disease can shape the path of human evolution,? says Sarah Tishkoff of the University of Maryland. ?By studying how nature copes with devastating infectious disease like malaria, we may be able to design more effective treatments or vaccines against these diseases.?
All humans have a gene called G6PD- it?s a sort of ?cleaning agent? that helps with the metabolism of glucose in the body. Some people are born with a mutated version of this gene, and these people seem to be more resistant to the affects of malaria.
An international team of scientists headed by Tishkoff investigated the genetic histories of populations in Africa, the Middle East and the Mediterranean in places with a high incidence of malaria. They found that different variations of the gene evolved independently of one another. By looking at the number of variants the gene has collected over time, they can estimate the age of the mutation.
According to their research, malaria began to spread roughly 7,000 to 12,000 years ago as the climate dramatically changed in Africa. At this time temperature and humidity rose creating new lakes and pools, and the advent of agriculture resulted in forest clearing and sedentary populations. This was a deadly mix that fueled the spread of malarial carrying mosquitoes.
Says Tishkoff, ?This study demonstrates how the environment, culture, genes and history interact to shape patterns of variation in the human genome.?
For the Archaeology Today story, click here.
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