Earlier this September officials from the World Health Organization announced that Zika is still a global health emergency due to the lack of knowledge many people have regarding the devastating disease.
A group of Zika experts recently held a meeting at the WHO headquarters to further discusses how to combat Zika. The severe birth defect known as microcephaly was perhaps the most discussed issue during the meeting. Experts are now focused on finding possible factors, other than Zika, that could be causing the influx of microcephaly cases around the world.
To a layman who has been keeping up with the news regarding Zika, it would seem obvious that the current epidemic of microcephaly is caused by the Zika virus. However, there are a few problems with blaming Zika for the increase in birth defects. For example, Brazil has reported nearly two thousand cases of microcephaly and other brain abnormalities in newborns, but Colombia, Brazil’s neighbor, has reported 18,000 pregnant women as having Zika since last fall, but fewer than three dozen cases of microcephaly have been reported, indicating that not Zika, but another factor is to blame for the rapid increase in birth defects. On a happier note the WHO reported zero cases of Zika following the Olympic events in Rio de Janiero.
What could possibly be the other factor responsible for the influx of birth defects?
Researchers from Indiana University explored how genes function by switching off orthodenticle genes associated with head development in dung beetles. Once the dung beetles developed along with the absence of their orthodenticle genes, the beetles failed to develop their usual horns, or they were much smaller in size, and most astoundingly, the beetles developed a third eye.
This amazed scientists since all other animals fail to develop a brain if their orthodenticle (OTD) genes are switched off. OTD genes exist in just about every animal from simple invertebrates to complex mammals. In addition to the odd result of the dung beetle experiment, the researchers switched off the same genes in a flour beetle, but the flour beetle did not demonstrate the same results. What is notable about this experiment is that switching off these genes naturally prevents the formation of certain features of the dung beetle’s head, but it also turns on the development of complex structures, like eyes. But why is this?
Scientists believe that this research demonstrates that the genes that are expressed in tissues where they have no function, find a new function by creating entirely new physical traits. It has been noted in the past that genes do indeed find new functions, but the genes need to be activated at the right time and in the right environment. But scientists are at a loss as to why this particular beetle developed a third eye.
Do you think that the dung beetle developed a third eye because the beetle could better adapt to its environment with a new third eye?
The FDA has demanded that all blood centers located in the United States and its territories must screen donated blood for the Zika virus. Before this new nationwide regulation was announced only Florida and Puerto Rico were required to test blood procured from blood banks. The required testing conducted at blood banks in Puerto Rico and Florida have proven to be effective at preventing the further spread of the Zika virus.
Blood donation sites are already required to test for west nile, HIV, Hepatitis and several other blood-borne diseases, so the addition of mandatory Zika testing will not be inconvenient for blood donation centers. Some states are already voluntarily screening donated blood for the Zika virus. One blood donation site emphasizes the affordability of the equipment needed to test for the Zika virus. Officials at a South Texas blood center claim that testing for the Zika virus only sets the blood center back ten dollars. The mandatory expansion in required Zika testing comes after several vocal concerns made by politicians on Capitol Hill.
Why is mandatory testing for Zika at blood banks a requirement only now?
It is no secret that insecticides are necessary to avoid insect damage to crops and gardens. However, the use of insecticides is not the only weapon farmers have at their disposal when it comes to keeping insects off their crops. There are also genetically modified crops that are specially constituted to repel insects that would normally feed on crops, such as corn and cotton. In other words genetically modified crops have insecticides genetically engineered into them. There is just one problem facing cotton crops, and that problem is the whitefly.
The whitefly is not your typical crop eating insect. Whiteflies suck sap out of plants, which in turn cause plants to wilt and become ultimately useless. The solution to this whitefly problem seems to lie in a particular gene that is expressed in ferns and mosses (yes, it is “mosses,” not “moss”).
It has been noted that whiteflies avoid feeding on ferns and mosses. When researchers dug deeper into why whiteflies have distaste for these plants they discovered that a particular gene that is expressed in both of these plants repels whiteflies. Naturally scientists began to modify cotton plants to express this same gene. And the results were a success, as whiteflies no longer showed any interest in the modified cotton plants. Despite the success, scientists acknowledge that more research into the anti-whitefly gene needs to be conducted before the modified cotton hits the market.
Do you think scientists could develop something similar that would work on plants other than cotton?
Do you ever feel like mosquitos seem to seek you out more than other people? Well, you may actually be correct. There are four things that can make you much more of a mosquito magnet than other people. Unfortunately, not all of these conditions are possible to change, so you may just be stuck spraying insect repellent all over you every time you go outside.
Scientists already knew that mosquitos are attracted to the carbon dioxide we exhale, but you might not have known that pregnant women produce a hell of a lot more, which means they also attract way more mosquitos. This is even more dangerous with the recent Zika virus outbreak, which is a particular threat to pregnant mothers and their unborn babies. Another thing that can make you a mosquito magnet is exercise. Mosquitos love lactic acid, which your muscles produce in very large quantities when you strain them during exercise. Mosquitos will also flock towards people with a higher temperature, meaning you should stay away from drinks that will raise it. Alcohol in particular will make your temperature go up, meaning mosquitos will flock towards your warm body. For some reason blood type can also affect how much mosquitos are attracted to you. If you have type O blood, you have an 83% chance of getting bitten by a mosquito…or many mosquitos.
How much of a mosquito magnet are you? Do you have any tips for repelling mosquitos?
Given the tremendous amount of attention that has been given to Zika many people may not recall, or even know, that mosquitoes transmit a variety of other diseases as well, and Zika is not even close to being the most devastating insect-borne infection. Mosquitoes also transmit Malaria, the West Nile Virus and Dengue Fever. Dengue fever alone kills twenty five thousand people per year, and a new study is suggesting that having Dengue Fever may be much more dangerous for cardiac patients.
According to a study conducted by Fortis Healthcare many victims of dengue fever show irregular heart function according to electrocardiograph (ECG) readings. Dengue victims with no history of cardiac issues still showed a change in ECG readings upon arrival at a hospital. This is the first time science has understood dengue’s greater danger for those with heart ailments. However, if prior cardiac problems are promptly reported to doctors early enough cardiac complication can be averted in those with dengue fever.
Why did doctors not notice this rather glaring fact sooner?
With all the talk about Zika these days you would think that it is the only virus that mosquitoes can transmit to humans. Of course this is not the case as Dengue Fever alone kills twenty five thousand people per year. So where should you retire to in order to avoid all these mosquitoes and the terrible viruses that go with along with them?
Living near the equator where the Zika virus has taken hold is perfectly reasonable if you want to avoid the infection, but you must live in high altitudes conditions. Although going to get groceries might take a while, living in the mountains would be perfect since you would get to enjoy constant spring time weather. For example, Chile and Colombia contain high altitude living conditions that are idea for living a mosquito free life. Bogotá, Colombia, Arequipa, Peru and Puebla, Mexico already have a lot of American expats in whom you can socialize, and best of all they are all cities that are located at high altitudes where mosquitoes are not a problem.
Have you ever visited a city in the tropics that seemed to be mosquito free?