Viruses: evolving destruction and creation

The other day I was visiting my favorite toy store – Home Depot – when one of my neighbors approached me in the parking lot. The first thing he said to me, “Have I got a story for you to write about.” With passion, he told me that the zika carrying mosquito is already here in Roswell. My friend is an avid listener of NPR and they have had several reports on the zika situation here in Southeast New Mexico.

I told my friend that I was not up to date on the cause and effect of the zika infected mosquitoes or for that matter, mosquitoes in general. I told him I would look into it as a potential article for my column and that ended a pretty passionate conversation about “the lack of knowledge by the people of Roswell and the City leaders.” Those were my friend’s words, not mind, but I did take him seriously and researched the topic. And here is what I now know.

I was amazed at how many “We don’t know” responses to questions on the National CDC.GOV web site there were. As of Jan 29, 2016, Albuquerque’s Environmental Health Department Manager said two mosquito species in the state are known to carry zika. Dr. Paul Smith said the yellow fever mosquito (Aedes aegypti) and Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus) can be found in parts of southern and eastern New Mexico AND there are no cases of zika infected mosquitoes to date.

The female Aedes aegypti — the ones that bite — hangs out in your house, preferably under your furniture, such as your bed. If door and window screens block her entrance into your house, she will settle down under your patio furniture. And unlike the mosquitoes that most cities target for destruction each summer, the Aedes aegypti doesn’t swarm, bite at night or even hang out in open standing water sources. It does hang out under any kind of junk that might have a bit of moisture. That is one reason to keep your property (including your ally) cleaned up.

The Aedes aegypti mosquito has just become very popular recently because it is the one that can carry the zika virus, a virus that can lead to microephaly, a very dramatic and noticeable effect on new born baby development. If it wasn’t for the appearance of the babies, this might not be an international story.

But it is a story about birth defects and it should to be addressed world wide. Microcephaly is not a common condition. Birth defect tracking systems have estimated that microcephaly NOT linked to zika virus ranges from 2 -12 babies per 10,000 live births in the United States. Right now, because of the zika virus, that number is much higher in Brazil where the 2016 Summer Olympics are being held. This will not be a serious problem for the athletes because none of them should or would be pregnant.

The Aedes aegypti mosquito has been around for a long time and can carry other known viral diseases like dengue, chikungunya and also West Nile. Dengue is an infectious, rash like fever typically found in tropical climates. Chikungunya, also causes fever accompanying by joint pains occur mostly with senior citizens or people with weak immune systems. Neither of these is of concern in New Mexico. The West Nile virus has shown up in New Mexico in the past but seems to be under control. Chaves County only had one case in 2015 (per EHD).

The zika virus is rapidly moving around the world and specifically within the United States in such places like Florida, Texas and Hawaii, notably in urban areas. Today’s migration of people has a lot to do with this spreading phenomenon because humans are the host for the virus. In most cases, zika symptoms are very similar to your basic flu virus but in severe cases can lead to hospitalization.

Vaccines for humans have been the traditional way to counter punch viruses that effect humans. Each vaccine can take years to develop. Another approach is to vaccinate the mosquito population itself: Radiation sterilization of males (nuclear science) and/or evolve bacteria in females are two possibilities.

The Wolbachia bacteria occurs naturally in approximately 60% of all insect species and protects them from viruses or being carriers. It is their immune system. Unfortunately, the Aedes aegypti mosquito is one of the exceptions. In the research labs, Wolbachia is being introduced into the Aedes aegypti species to neutralize the primary carrier of the zika virus – the female mosquito. Hopefully the bacteria will evolve through each generation of the mosquito. If the male is sterilized with a radiation treatment there will be no next generation.

“We cannot spray our way out of this,” said Umair Shah, executive director of Harris County, Texas, Public Health and Environmental Services, at a national summit on zika preparedness in April. Brazil has been spraying for years and it has had little effect on the numbers of zika, dengue, malaria and other viruses. Maybe it’s time to bring back DDT.

Viruses are a part of the human race. It is what makes us – us. A small percentage of our DNA is made up of historical viruses that have allowed us to evolve and are appropriately called indigenous retroviruses. I will let you look that one up because of word limitation for my articles. Virus destruction and creation is all part of the living evolution. There are estimates of a hundred trillion life forms on or in our bodies. Under high tech microscopic video, this stuff looks creepy.

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