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A New Mosquito Emoji May Help Raise Mosquito-Borne Disease Awareness
If there is one modern fad that past generations would never have seen coming, then it would have to be the current obsession with emojis. Text messaging, whether it is on your phone, facebook, email or any other type of messaging service, often consists of sentences followed by emojis. It seems like emojis are everywhere these days. The modern obsession with emojis has even led to a major motion picture featuring walking-talking emojis. As it happens, the recent emoji movie did not make much money, so maybe there is a limit to acceptable emoji exposure after all. However, people’s enthusiasm for emojis can be used to benefit mankind. For example, sometime during the summer of 2018, the Unicode Consortium will release a mosquito emoji in order to raise mosquito-borne disease awareness.
The mosquito is not the first animal to be made into an emoji. For example, butterflies and bees are two other insects that have earned their own emoji. Whales and rabbits have also been made into emojis. Surprisingly, well educated scientific researchers believe that the existence of a mosquito emoji could help to spread awareness concerning the dangers posed by mosquitoes. The Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have both promoted the idea of a mosquito emoji as a method of spreading awareness about mosquito-borne diseases, especially the Zika virus.
Hopefully, having a mosquito emoji option in our toolbox will ultimately save lives that would otherwise be lost due to mosquito-borne diseases. This may seem like a ridiculous idea, but using a mosquito emoji may allow public health professionals to better communicate the modern threat of mosquito-borne diseases to the public. Although the risk of contracting a mosquito-borne disease has been a hot topic in the media for the past few years, some medical professionals have claimed that many Zika-infected patients are surprisingly ignorant of how to protect themselves from mosquito bites. Seeing as how social media has already proven to be an effective platform for communicating certain public health campaigns to the public, it seems unwise to dismiss the claim that a mosquito emoji could save lives in the long run. Only time will tell how well the mosquito emoji works to spread mosquito-borne disease awareness to the public.
Do you think that the mosquito emoji will lead to lower Zika infection rates?
The Zika Virus Is Not The Only Insect-Borne Disease To Damage Developing Fetuses
By now we all know that the Zika virus has devastating effects on developing fetuses. Unfortunately, researchers are learning that other mosquito-borne diseases also cause severe birth defects. In total, four viruses in the same family as Zika can affect developing fetuses. Two of these viruses have been found to cause fetal defects as well as death in mice. One of these four dangerous mosquito-borne diseases is the West Nile virus. The prevalence of these diseases varies by country, but researchers noted that the country of Israel was particularly affected by the worst of the West Nile Virus.
American media outlets typically refer to Brazil as being the hardest hit by the Zika virus. This is reasonable given the high rate of Zika-related birth defects that have been documented in Brazil during the past few years. However, current research is showing that mosquito-borne viruses could also damage developing fetuses in the middle-east. Although we do not hear much about the West Nile virus in other countries, this virus is actually endemic in Israel. Poor living conditions in certain regions of Israel attract West Nile-carrying mosquitoes. The regions of Israel that see the highest rates of West Nile infection are poor regions with open sewers. These open sewers attract a dizzying amount of mosquitoes. Officials with the Israeli Health Ministry have claimed that eighty eight people per year become infected with the West Nile virus. The risk of mosquito-borne disease facing Israel is remarkably high, and the future of mosquito-control in the country is questionable. Researchers also learned that four different flaviviruses can likely lead to birth defects. These Zika-related flavivirus include the West Nile Virus, Powassan, chikungunya and Mayaro. So far these diseases have been shown to damage developing fetuses in female mice. Although mice are not humans, the researchers stressed that the four viruses are capable of replicating in human and maternal fetal tissues.
Do you think that a spike in mosquito-borne diseases will occur in certain areas of the world this coming summer?
Researchers Examine Mosquito Brains In An Effort To Develop A Vaccine For The Zika Virus
Imagine being tasked with monitoring a mosquito’s neural functions. Mosquitoes are already tiny, so examining their brains is a pretty tall order. Despite how difficult this task seems, researchers have recently examined the brains of several different mosquitoes in order to learn more about mosquito physiology, and most of all, to develop a working vaccine to treat the Zika virus. Luckily, the researchers believe that they may have stumbled upon a breakthrough in the struggle to develop a viable vaccine.
According to Associate Professor Asim Bhatti, the research leader in neuro-engineering at Deakin’s Institute for Intelligent Systems Research and Innovation, Zika carrying mosquitoes are obviously infected with the Zika virus themselves, but research shows that mosquitoes are immune to the most debilitating effects of the virus. Of course, anybody who has been reading the paper or watching the news knows that thousands of babies have been born with brain abnormalities as a result of undergoing their fetal development in Zika-infected mothers. The most advanced cases of this type of brain damage is known as Guillain-Barré syndrome. Although there are currently numerous scientists and researchers around the world who are constantly working to develop a Zika vaccine, scientists have not yet synthesized an experimental form of the vaccine.
Most scientists research the Zika virus by conducting animal studies. However, Bhatti is conducting his experiments into Zika a bit differently by tracing the virus all the way back to the mosquitoes that transmit the virus. According to Bhatti, his experiment is the first in history to demonstrate a mosquito’s brain activity in vitro. Basically Bhatti is putting mosquito brain cells on a computer chip in order to track brain activity. Interestingly, it has been found that while the Zika virus kills human brain cells, mosquito brain cells don’t die, and they can recover quite easily. These surviving mosquito brain cells can continue to fight the Zika virus, while human cells cannot. This is an ongoing study that is raising more interesting questions than answers.
Do you believe that any type of insect brain can now be examined in detail thanks to modern technology? Can a tiny mite’s brain ever be examined?
New Research Shows That West Nile-Induced Memory Deficits Can Be Treated
Right now in the United States there are ten thousand people living with memory deficits as a result of past West Nile infections. Deficits in memory are not the only cognitive deficits that many past victims still experience. Medical experts have long wondered why cognitive functioning remained hindered in past victims of West Nile. As far as experts understood, the victims should have eventually retained normal cognitive functioning after the victims were deemed free of the disease. However, much to everyone’s surprise, this has not been the case. Fortunately, new research in mice is revealing that persistent cognitive issues caused by West Nile infection could result from continued brain inflammation. This is exciting news for doctors and victims as this inflammation can be reduced with modern medical treatments.
Research with West Nile-infected mice has shown that a common drug used to treat arthritis can reduce brain inflammation caused by the disease. This inflammation does not disappear in victims of the West Nile virus. Brain inflammation caused by West Nile can last a lifetime, and may never improve without medical intervention. The lasting cognitive deficits associated with West Nile infection have long puzzled doctors. Now it is clear that persistent inflammation that first occurred with the disease’s onset is responsible for these lasting symptoms. This prolonged inflammation prevents natural repair processes, which in turn, prevent the growth of cells in parts of the brain that have been damaged by the disease and are essential for cognitive function, mostly memory.
These persistent memory problems have made it difficult for past West Nile sufferers to live normal day-to-day lives. Driving a car, cooking, and holding down a job have all been challenging for these victims. According to a professor of medicine at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Robyn Klein, if inflamed areas of the brain are targeted by a basic arthritis drug, memory problems can be treated in past victims, and future victims can be spared these cognitive symptoms. However, brain damage caused by the West Nile virus only gets worse over time, so long time sufferers may not benefit from the new treatment as much as patients who have recently contracted the virus.
Do you personally fear the possibility of contracting the West Nile virus? Do you use products to minimize mosquito bites?
Zika Prevention Education Has Not Been A Success In Some Regions In America
During the years of 2015 and 2016 Zika was in the news constantly due to numerous outbreaks in the Americas and elsewhere. Given the vast amount of news coverage concerning the Zika virus, you would assume that anybody living in the United States, South America and other nearby islands would be all too familiar with the Zika virus and the negative impacts that face victims who have contracted the disease. This seems like a fair assumption when it comes to women who were pregnant during this two year span given the terrible effects that the Zika virus has on developing fetuses. However, you may be surprised, as public health professionals are learning that in some regions of the US, plenty of individuals, and even pregnant woman are unaware of the negative effects that Zika causes in humans. According to public health officials working in Brownsville, Texas three fourths of all pregnant women who show up to Zika clinics have never even heard of the Zika virus, and obviously they do not know of any Zika prevention measures.
Since the Zika outbreaks occurred a few years ago, American public health officials have required all doctors and hospital personnel to test pregnant woman for Zika every trimester. According to a nurse practitioner working for the Cameron County Health Department, most patients who come into the Mary P. Lucio Health Center, are very poor and often uninsured. Therefore, these particular pregnant women are usually concerned with matters of day to day living. It has also been noted that woman are often more willing to use mosquito repellent than men are willing to use condoms in order to prevent the spread of Zika. Health professionals working at the clinic find this ignorance of the Zika virus troubling. Also, the unwillingness to exercise proper Zika prevention methods is quite problematic in a region like Brownsville where climatic conditions are ideal for mosquitoes. This lack of knowledge concerning Zika and Zika prevention has some public health officials concerned about another Zika outbreak occurring in the southern region of Texas.
Do you believe that another outbreak of Zika could occur solely as a result of ignorance concerning safety measures that can prevent Zika infection?
Primate Studies Reveal The Long Term Efficacy Of Three Experimental Zika Vaccines
Many people may feel as though the Zika virus is a forgotten and largely harmless mosquito-borne disease. Although there is no good reason to assume that the world will not see another outbreak of Zika, it can at least be said that the most Zika-affected countries will be prepared if the virus returns. If you were to ask an epidemiologist, entomologist or a public health professional if Zika will return, they would likely tell you that Zika will probably rebound in the years to come. Some experts are also concerned about possible genetic mutations that could render the Zika virus far more devastating. Luckily, billions of dollars have been poured into Zika research. This money has not been wasted either, as researchers have developed several Zika vaccines. The development of these vaccines has already been reported in the news. But only recently have researchers published a study concerning the long-term efficacy of three different Zika vaccines. It turns out that these three vaccines vary greatly in how effective they are at achieving their purpose.
A group of some of the brightest scientific minds in existence teamed up to determine the long term efficacy of three Zika vaccines. Researchers with Harvard Medical School, Walter Reed Army Institute, and MIT tested the three different vaccines on rhesus monkeys. The three vaccines work in completely different ways. One of the vaccines is DNA-based, another vaccine involves an injection of an inactive Zika virus sample, and the last method involves the “adenovirus vector-based” method, which is a viral component of the common cold. The DNA-based vaccine quit being effective a year after administration. Therefore this particular vaccine will likely be scrapped. The inactive Zika sample was seventy five percent effective after one year. But the adenovirus-based vaccine offered monkeys one hundred percent immunity against the Zika virus after one single injection. The researchers are not sure which vaccines will be most effective in humans, but the current pace of research into Zika vaccines is a good sign that humans will have an effective Zika vaccine in the near future.
Do you think that the adenovirus-based vaccine, which was the most effective vaccine in rhesus monkeys, will also turn out to be the most effective vaccine in humans?
Many Olympic Athletes Contracted Diseases In Brazil, But Not Zika
Last year the Zika virus was infecting people in many regions of the world, mostly in Brazil. As you can remember, the 2016 olympic games were held in Rio, Brazil. This raised a dilemma for many olympic athletes who wanted to compete in the games, but did not want to risk Zika infection. Public health officials were warning against traveling to Brazil. Earlier in the 2016 year the World Health Organization had declared a global public health emergency. Despite the heightened risk of Zika infection in Brazil, the olympic games commenced as scheduled with the athletes in attendance. Luckily, the risk of contracting the Zika virus turned out to be lower than experts had estimated. Amazingly, not a single olympian became infected with the Zika virus. However, several olympians still contracted mosquito-borne diseases, such as West Nile, Dengue and Chikungunya.
Dr. Krow Ampofo tested olympic athletes for the Zika virus. He was pleased to find that none of the athletes had contracted Zika, but he was surprised to learn that several had contracted other disease that are spread by the same mosquito that spreads Zika. The WHO also tested olympic athletes and found no cases of Zika infection. However, Dr. Krow Ampofo possessed the largest body of medical test results. He planned on presenting his results at an infectious disease conference in San Diego.
Somewhere in the neighborhood of two thousand athletes, coaches and support staff traveled to Brazil last year to take part in the olympic games. Of those two thousand people, four hundred and fifty seven individuals submitted blood tests. These volunteers also filled out surveys that had asked athletes about the different locations in the country that they had visited. Although none of the volunteers had become infected with Zika, seven percent of the volunteers had contracted other mosquito-borne diseases. Twenty seven people contracted the West Nile virus, three people contracted Chikungunya, and two people contracted Dengue. The public health emergency that had been declared in Brazil ended in May of 2017.
Do you think that it was irresponsible of the olympic athletes to disregard the WHO’s recommendations by traveling to Brazil?
Crucial Evidence Provided By Forensic Entomologists Is Sometimes Dismissed In Court Cases
Forensic entomology can sometimes put a murderer behind bars, or worse. But this is not always the case. Prosecuting attorneys will not always make use of evidence provided by forensic entomologists, as the law does not always consider this sort of evidence to be reliable. However, when attorneys do prosecute crimes that hinge on evidence gathered by forensic entomologists, the evidence is typically pretty damning. Lawyers prosecuting an alleged murderer in an ongoing murder case have relied heavily on the strength of entomological forensic evidence. Unfortunately for the prosecuting attorneys, the testimony of the forensic entomologist tasked with investigating the murder case will be dismissed by the court. This particular case serves as a good example of how easily evidence gathered by forensic entomologists can be thrown out.
Neal Haskell, a forensic entomologist, provided testimony recently concerning evidence found at a murder scene in 2013. Four years ago the decomposing bodies of Joyce and Clifford Snow were found within their insect-infested home. The primary suspect in the murders has always been the couple’s now thirty eight year old son, Thomas Snow. Snow had led authorities on a high speed chase after the murders had been discovered, and for several days after the murders, Snow had claimed that his parents were in Germany. Thomas Snow lived with his parents.
The timeline for the Snow murders, which has been determined using forensic entomology, is the primary and most useful form of evidence that the state has against Snow. Forensic entomologists determined the date of death as falling between October 18th and the 22nd of 2013. The temperature of the home following the time of the deaths is one of the most important factors for determining time of death. Since the temperature control system had been turned off when authorities discovered the bodies, the forensic entomologist had to estimate a temperature. The defense attorney attacked the forensic entomologist’s testimony by saying that “arbitrary estimates lead to arbitrary results”. And with that, the testimony was thrown out. So no matter how damning the evidence collected by forensic entomologists may be, it does not always ensure justice for the guilty, or innocent.
Do you believe that forensic entomological evidence relies too heavily on guesswork?
One Genetic Alteration Made Zika Go From Harmless To Devastating
The Zika virus was first discovered in a Ugandan monkey during the year of 1947. A few years later, experts determined that the Zika virus would only cause mild symptoms in people who contracted the virus. Since the Zika virus was not a serious public health concern during the mid twentieth century, experts promptly forgot about the disease. However, the Zika virus of 1947 is very different from the Zika virus of 2017. At some point the virus underwent a mutation. This mutation is the reason why infected pregnant mothers give birth to children with microcephaly.
Chinese researchers believe that they have pinpointed a certain time when the Zika virus underwent a genetic change that made it much more dangerous. According to the researchers, the Zika virus mutated during May of 2013. This was right before citizens of French Polynesia struggled through high Zika infection rates, which lasted two solid years. In addition to French Polynesia, three other Pacific Islands suffered through a two year bout of high infection rates. By March of 2015, the Zika virus had arrived in Brazil. I don’t need to tell you that the Zika virus became a significant problem in the country of Brazil. So far, nearly three thousand Brazilian mothers have given birth to children afflicted with microcephaly.
According to disease-control experts, the Zika virus mutated while jumping from region to region during the summer of 2016. Sometimes mutations can bring about differences that make once feared viruses become harmless to humans. Unfortunately, some of the time these genetically altered viruses make infections even more serious. Most of the time, however, genetic changes to a virus do not change anything for those suffering from a virus. The lead Chinese researcher noted that Zika’s genetic change was small, but the symptoms of the virus became much worse for some sufferers, mainly pregnant women. After the virus mutated, it started to go after brain tissue more aggressively. The Chinese researchers are currently researching the neurological complications that some Zika victims experience.
Have you ever considered the possibility that maybe you had the West Nile virus, or Zika, but given your age, you did not realize you had become infected?