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!
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