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Shrinking Forests, Emerging Diseases

Dona Dora’s man is away from home a lot more these days. It didn’t used to be like that.

He leaves early, sometimes on foot, but increasingly on his bicycle, and heads into the forests surrounding Belém, the capital of Brazil’s Para province. He keeps his eyes open especially for five medicinal plants that are always in demand — sucuúba (Himatanthus sucuuba), copaíba (Copaifera spp.), andiroba (Carapa guianensis), barbatimão (Stryphnodendron spp.) and pãu d’arco (Tabebuia avellanedae).

Fifteen years earlier, he would have found all five within hours and been back for lunch, but times have changed. These days, medicinal forest plants in high demand are becoming harder to find as forests that have stood strong for millennia are cleared to make way for grazing pastures for millions of cattle owned by meat companies, or to grow soybeans to feed cattle and poultry.

Now, Dona Dora’s man can spend a whole day and not find more than a few plants. It might be late at night before he gets back home.

The Rise of Dengue: A Global Perspective

Around the world, dengue is considered the most common viral disease transmitted by mosquitoes that affects people. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the disease is now endemic in more than 100 countries. In the first three months of 2024, over five million dengue cases and over 2000 dengue-related deaths were reported globally. The figures so far project that 2024 could be even worse than 2023, with the regions most seriously affected being the Americas, South-East Asia, and Western Pacific.

In the Americas, there were 6,186,805 suspected cases of dengue reported in the first 15 weeks of 2024. To put this into perspective, according to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), this figure represents an increase of 254% compared to the same period in 2023. Of these cases 5,928 were confirmed and classified as severe dengue.

Europe and the U.S. Battle Measles – Again

Initially, doctors in the Tuzla Canton of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina thought the rash on young Imran’s* stomach could be scarlet fever. Or maybe it was Kawasaki disease. As reported by Eurosurveillance, that was in early December 2023. By Christmas, four of Imran’s preschool classmates had been admitted to the hospital with measles. By mid-January 2024, another epidemiologically linked case – again originally misdiagnosed as the much less contagious scarlet fever – presented in a neighboring canton. Two more quickly followed. Between the last week of December and the middle of February, the Balkan nation had reported 141 new measles cases.

Barts Health Trust’s Dr. David Harrington said the misdiagnoses should not be unexpected.

“Many front-line clinicians won’t have seen measles for several years,” he told Medscape UK. “So good education and training and collaboration between public health and infection specialists with those in primary and emergency care is key.”

Mosquitoes that carry West Nile are becoming resistant to insecticides

John VanDenBerg suspects he was gardening when a mosquito got him.

It was September 2018, and VanDenBerg, then 67, had been feeling a little “off” for a few days, he said, like maybe he had the flu.

But one morning, as he was walking out of his Colorado home, he collapsed.

The Economics of Malaria

In the 2022 World Malaria Report, compiled by the World Health Organization (WHO), the total spend on funding the fight of malaria in 2021 was estimated at USD 3.5 billion. Over that year, the same report states that there were an estimated 247 million cases of malaria and 619,000 malaria deaths globally.

More recently, over the course of the 20th Century, malaria is believed to have claimed between 150–300 million lives. The disease is contracted predominantly in the tropical regions: sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the Amazon basin. This is due to the prevalence of the Anopheles mosquito that transmits the disease. Poorer regions of Africa bear the vast majority of the burden. In 2021, around 95% of the diagnosed cases and deaths were on the African continent, 80% of which were children under the age of five. The disease is entirely preventable and curable with prompt diagnosis and effective methods of treatment which require sufficient investment and funding.

Deforestation’s Hidden Toll: Amplifying Disease Risk Worldwide

In the last couple of decades, the lush rainforest around the remote village of Meliandou in the heart of Guinea has become patchier. Animals, like bats, saw their habitats dwindle and in a quest for survival, they sought refuge in closer proximity to human environments, making the boundaries between species thinner. A hollowed-out tree in the middle of the village became home to a colony of bats.

About 50 meters from the same tree, in the heart of Meliandou, a two-year-old boy named Emile lived with his family. In a matter of days, Emile fell ill with an unknown virus, developed a high fever, and died. Soon the same virus, that scientists now believe Emile got from the bats, took the lives of his sister, mother, and grandmother. The village, surrounded by a ring of forest, unexpectedly became the epicenter of a devastating outbreak that would leave an indelible mark.

Aedes aegypti: Beyond the Black and White

One look at Aedes aegypti gives an immediate impression of its menacing nature. The telltale dark and white bands on the mosquito’s legs and other body parts bring a sense of foreboding and hardship. Sleek, silent, and stealthy, Ae. aegypti is the primary vector for several important, debilitating, and sometimes fatal human diseases including dengue, Zika virus, yellow fever, and chikungunya. The species is cause for mounting concern on many levels, as its biology, behavior, and ability to adapt have made Aedes aegypti one of the most pervasive and daunting public health challenges in the modern world.

The first mosquito ever associated with the spread of disease, Ae. aegypti is also the most studied of all mosquito species.1 From its humble beginnings in the African wild to a footprint that spans the globe, this durable and opportunistic insect has become a formidable opponent of vector control efforts worldwide.

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