Disease migration and the expanding tropics

Author: Gladwyn d'Souza | Category: Environment | Food | Health | Date: 09-03-2020


You think Covid-19 is bad? Imagine Uncle Sam telling women not to have children! In 2015 El Salvador became the first country to tell women not to have children… until the government, figured out how to control the Zika Virus. In February of 2016, the California Vector Control Association said that heavy rains will result in more mosquito borne illnesses like Zika. The US Center For Disease Control warned all pregnant women, and their spouses, about travel, south of the Carolinas in 2016. How did a virus, discovered in 1947, in Uganda, immobilize the Americas? Three reasons standout: the loss of forests, airline travel, and the expanding tropics.

I’ve visited many parts of East Africa with my family. I was born there. Grey African talking parrots and elephants were travel highlights- the virus, which gets its name from the tiny Zika forest in Uganda, was never on our minds. How did the virus escape it’s namesake forest? According to the Washington Post, the ravaging of forests around the world, has exposed people to viruses, once contained by nature. The road acts as a conduit between natural viral reservoirs, and human settlements. Ruts in the road provide the wet habitat for disease vectors like mosquitoes. Settlements along the road propel the propagation of pestilence according to Ted Conover. E.O. Wilson writes that the species driven to extinction by deforestation include the natural predators that had boxed up the contagion. Like Pandora we haven’t learned to leave well enough alone. We need to protect ourselves from our remaining forests.

Probably the scariest forest virus to emerge in recent years was Ebola. According to the Guardian, Ebola sprang out of an obscure forest illegally logged around the village of Gueckedou. Gueckedou is situated between two immensely poor countries, Sierra Leone and Liberia. Both countries were eventually at the epicenter of the epidemic. The devastation within the slums of Liberia was all over the news. But the reason we woke up to Ebola, was the arrival of Delta Airlines, in Boston and Dallas, with sick patients. The fear in the media in 2014 was palpable. H1NI a decade ago had reveled that disease outbreaks in poor communities and airlines were linked. Airlines in a day disperse the disease around the globe.  How did Miami become ground zero for Zika according to the Governing Magazine?  Because 89 of the 90 Zika cases in Miami were directly related to travel! We need to stop illegal logging and develop a response to the movement of diseased passengers.

One day in February 2016 we woke up with mosquito bites on our arms. I called vector control, at their San Mateo County office in Daly City. The person who answered, told me, it’s not unusual anymore to find mosquitos in our homes. The mosquito probably came in when you opened the door she said. I told her we hadn’t had one in the fourteen years we’ve been in Belmont. She said, in recent years the temperatures at night do not get below freezing for extended hours. The larvae of the mosquitos are able to overwinter in pool of water, that gather in plastic trash and plant trays. The increased overwintering of species from warmer climates, is known as The Expanding Tropics. According to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, disease migration and the expanding tropics, are tradeoffs, for changing natural ecosystems like forests.

I asked Vector Control if Aedes Aegypti, the mosquito that carries Zika is found in San Mateo County. She said yes, last year two were caught in Daly City. As the tropics expand to Daly City we need to be aware of the multiple maladies spread by our migrating hosts. They will not be deterred by a beautiful wall. What makes Aedes Aegypti a bad hombre is how it’s loaded. Aedes is host to four viruses associated with tropical conditions of poverty like plastic trash. The first virus is Chikungunya, an extremely painful disease according to my cousin who caught it last year. If not treated promptly it leaves you bent over and deformed. But at least you survive. Dengue fever, West Nile fever and Zika are the remaining three. Dengue fever and West Nile fever are predicted by the World Health Organization, to become the two of the three leading killers in The Expanding Tropics.

Disease migration within the expanding tropics is a cup spilling over! For example patients who recover from Zika are not out of the  denuded woods- the New York Times reports that Zika can result in Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a disease of temporary paralysis, and life long problems with movement.

In 2015 the World Health Organization declared Zika a global health emergency. You are thinking ok aedes aegypti is here, but is it easy to contain? Yes it is, if states can afford it. But according to the Congressional Quarterly, 71% of states have eliminated mosquito vector control since 2008 as a cost cutting measure. In addition, infectious disease prevention and research were significantly slashed in the 2017 federal budget.

Remember ebola exploded in the slums of Liberia. Outbreaks are a consequence of travel and poverty. We need to stop illegal logging. We need to develop a comprehensive public health response to the movement of diseased passengers. And we need to be prepared for the threats posed in poor communities by the expanding tropics. Otherwise, in addition to Staying At Home, the buzz  in a generation could be the government advising all women not to get pregnant!



Tommy Zeng
As we continue to cut down more and more trees, we destroy more and more ecosystems. With the disruptions from our world, the ecosystems within the forest have been disrupted which brought about all these issues that we humans have not expected.
Jake Kim
This article really covered a lot of information that I was not familiar with. I didn't know that the outbreak of deadly viruses and diseases like Ebola and Zika had to do with illegal logging in African forests. Moreover, it surprises me that the mosquitos carrying these diseases are now in ...Read more our vicinity. I have also recently found a mosquito in my room right before I was about to fall asleep, which was the first time this has ever happened. The measures that you have mentioned in this article should definitely be enforced in order to prevent the exacerbation of the spread of diseases Less
Zoe Byun
This a really informative article; I was not aware that the loss of forests could contribute to the spread of contagious diseases. It's important that people become aware of these news, especially airline companies. In order to prevent the spread of serious pandemics, we have to keep account of ...Read more all infected passengers Less
Audrey Kong
I think that these two diseases are in a similar situation of COVID-19 in which we are trying to find a way to contain them both. It is very scary and frustrating to know that these two diseases have hit San Mateo County because we are already facing all sorts of things.
Ariel L
I also thought that this piece was especially scary because I never really thought that mosquito borne illnesses such as the Zika virus and illegal logging were related. This article really opened up my eyes about how containing the spread of the Zika virus from country to country is something we ...Read more need to focus on. This means that we should be making sure any people who carried the mosquito borne illness were diagnosed and treated in order to mitigate the spread. Something that I found was really interesting is that even though WHO declared Zika as a global health emergency, they still went on to slash infectious disease prevention from the federal budget 2 years later. This really shows that our focus should be going to preventing illegal logging and accounting for issues that will affect the well being of humans Less
Ben Seo
Although I knew about the Zika virus and Ebola when they were declared global health emergencies, I never really knew how they came to be. I never knew how much of a problem illegal logging could be not only to the people but even to people miles away. Travel increases that spreading even more so ...Read more that even people on different continents can be affected. One thing I found interesting was that infectious disease prevention and research were cut from the budget in 2017 even though there was the Zika virus just 2 years ago. I have to wonder how much better would the United States' response to the coronavirus would be if this wasn't cut from the budget Less
Leo Lin
I too found this extremely scary. I originally thought that the zika virus was contained, but to find that mosquitoes that carry it is found in a place that is close to where I live(Belmont which is in San Mateo County). I also liked how you bold certain pieces of evidence so that way, I am more ...Read more focused on it. I also think that there should be more focus on medical attention to all passengers as they all have the potential to spread certain viruses. I found it fighting that budgets for  disease prevention and research were also cut. I wonder where that money went Less
Ryan Yang
I never imagined that the destruction of forests could result in contagious diseases. However, reading the article helped me to understand why this is the case. It is clear that harming the environment will lead to a wide range of negative effects other than climate change, which itself is a huge ...Read more issue. I have heard, for example, that melting polar ice caps are causing the release of unknown substances that had been stored within the ice, potentially leading to many health and environmental risks. These various factors convince me that we need to consider issues that existed before the Co-Vid 19 pandemic, such as illegal logging and climate change, to preserve the environment and protect the health and livelihoods of all people Less
Gladwyn d'Souza
The world is ruled by Chaos. Wildfires, floods, droughts, pandemics, climate change don't happen on our schedule. They aren't neatly contained in San Mateo County. Events become more unpredictable based on how we try to order reality. Our consumption patterns make last year's New Normal ...Read more the good old days. We need to radically change our patterns to partner with Chaos in restoring ecosystem services like the containment of viruses and the hydrologic cycle. A starting point is global goals such as the Sustainable Development Goals. But various enforcers starting with the police and the courts all the way to the media owned by the extractive industries stand in the way- witness Citizens United, MSNBC, and the armed forces at Standing Rock suppressing water protectors. As Slavoj Zizek says the point is that there is no automatic escape from a symbolic order governing our sense of identity - the matrix that is Lacan's 'Big Other' – and it is an illusion to think of Singularity as redeeming us from the Fall. The path is constantly diverging. We could have more logging in search of more order. Or we could, in partnership with impacted communities of beings everywhere, determine a better world. One that is linked to restorative hydrologic cycle and the Green New Deal. Less
Sue C.
Gladwyn: This is an extremely informative and scary piece. I didn't know that the states eliminated mosquito vector control and that in 2017, federal infectious disease prevention and research funds were slashed. One consequence I worry about is that even though the remedy we believe in is ...Read more to stop logging and restrict travel in and out of certain areas, I am afraid that there might be stepped-up logging here and there as some people might start operating under the assumption that if forests are disease vectors, then let's get rid of forests! Less

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