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2 months ago

Auburn University research team discovers Zika-transmitting mosquito species in Alabama

Auburn University researchers have discovered the presence of Aedes aegypti — the primary mosquito that transmits Zika virus, yellow fever and other flaviviruses — in Alabama.

After a 26-year absence of the mosquito, Sarah Zohdy, Auburn School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences Assistant Professor of Disease Ecology, and wildlife sciences undergraduate student Victoria Ashby have discovered the species in Mobile. Ae. aegypti was thought to have been eliminated from the state.

“Our CDC-funded research has not only allowed for the detection and molecular confirmation of the mosquito in the state, but over the last year we have documented the spread of the mosquito from central Mobile to all of Mobile County,” Zohdy said.
The study was conducted from July 2016 to September 2017. Mosquitoes were collected twice a month from the grounds of various tire shops, gas stations, abandoned buildings and open containers quantified to estimate larval abundance. A total of 1,074 mosquitoes were collected, with Ae. aegypti being detected most commonly in the 36606 ZIP code of southwest Mobile, where there were more open containers than any other area in the city.

Since 1991, Ae. aegypti was thought to have been displaced in Alabama by another container-breeding mosquito, Ae. albopictus, because Ae. albopictus larvae are better competitors with resource-limited habitats and the males are capable of mating with Ae. aegypti and rendering the females sterile. Despite these advantages, Mobile is the ideal habitat for Ae. aegypti reintroduction or for remnant populations to persist because the city’s maritime traffic and its diverse mix of urban, suburban, rural and industrial environments allow the mosquito to find different habitats where it can either escape from Ae. albopictus or have the competitive upper hand.

The detection of Ae. aegypti confirms that Alabama residents could be at risk to contract several mosquito-transmitted diseases. “This work demonstrates that citizens of Alabama may be exposed to the mosquito vector of Zika, chikungunya and Dengue fever viruses,” Zohdy said.

Zika virus spreads to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. Female mosquitoes become infected by ingesting microbes from a person’s blood while biting them and then passing those microbes to the next person’s blood stream. Once infected, the mosquito is then thought to remain infected and able to pass on the virus throughout the remainder of its life, about two to four weeks. During this period they may take three to four blood meals, biting up to four or five people during their lifespan. Ae. aegypti is particularly problematic because it will also bite during the day and is very adaptive to different environments.

Specific geographic areas of greatest risk are correlated to the existence of the Aedes species. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, has developed estimated-range maps using models that predict potential geographic ranges where the Zika-transmitting mosquitoes would likely survive and reproduce based on local and historical records and suitable climate variables. According to the 2017 maps, the Zika-transmitting mosquito species are very likely to exist throughout the southeastern U.S. and as far west as California and as far north as Delaware.

Despite Alabama being an ideal habitat for mosquitoes that transmit Zika virus, very little mosquito surveillance data has been collected from around the state. Zohdy said that because of its research efforts and the discovery of Ae. aegypti, her team is now working with the Alabama Department of Public Health.

According to the CDC, 449 symptomatic Zika virus disease cases were reported within the U.S. in 2017, with three reported in Alabama and two in Georgia. The majority of cases were instances of travelers contracting the disease from affected areas. Seven cases were acquired through presumed local mosquito-borne transmission — two in Florida and five in Texas.

Zohdy’s team is conducting research in all 67 counties in Alabama to determine how widespread Ae. aegypti and Ae. albopictus are across the state.

In an effort to crowd-source mosquito surveillance data around the state, Zohdy’s research team has partnered with Prakash Lab at Stanford University to develop and implement an app called “Abuzz,” which will allow Alabama residents to record the sound of a mosquito flying. From this recording, the app can identify the species of mosquito and whether that species could potentially carry a disease by the sound of the buzzing of its wings.

Once deployed, the app can empower volunteer “citizen scientists” to participate in mosquito surveillance to help researchers increase the volume and locations of data collection. “Alabama has had little mosquito surveillance in the past, and we hope this app can change that to make it the best-sampled state in the nation,” Zohdy said.

Zohdy and her team also surveyed Mobile residents to gain insight about their perceptions of Zika virus and the best ways to target mosquito prevention. Of those responses, 70 percent reported a moderate to very high density of mosquitoes in their home and more than half of those surveyed said they feel concerned to extremely concerned that they or a family member might contract Zika virus.

“To help mitigate the threat of the Zika virus it is critical to understand local knowledge and behavioral factors related to exposure to the mosquitoes,” said Wayde Morse, an Auburn School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences associate professor of human dimensions, who participated in the research efforts.

The results of the research were published April 5 in the Journal of Medical Entomology, a scientific journal that historically publishes important information regarding mosquito surveillance. “Having this research published is a good way to reach people who study mosquitoes and other disease vectors,” Zohdy said.

Victoria Ashby, a sophomore studying wildlife sciences with a pre-veterinary medicine concentration, has worked with Zohdy’s research team for more than a year and leads fieldwork efforts. “My fieldwork has consisted of biweekly trips down to the Mobile Bay area in order to aspirate for adult mosquitoes and collect larvae using larval dip cups at 25 different sites in 12 ZIP codes,” she said.

After graduation, Ashby plans to attend graduate school to continue on the path of disease ecology research and later attend veterinary school. “I have a strong interest in veterinary epidemiology and public health and throughout my time so far at Auburn, my involvement in the disease ecology lab with Dr. Zohdy has really shaped my academic interests and ambitions,” she said.

Though Zika virus is primarily spread by infected Aedes species mosquitoes, the disease can also be transmitted through sexual contact with an infected person or from an infected pregnant woman to her fetus during pregnancy or at birth.

There is no vaccine to prevent Zika, but the CDC recommends the best way to avoid contracting the disease is to protect yourself from mosquito bites by these tips.

–Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
–Stay in places with air conditioning and window and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside.
–Take steps to control mosquitoes inside and outside your home by minimizing standing water in containers in and around the home.
–Treat your clothing and gear with permethrin or buy pre-treated items.
–Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents. Always follow the product label instructions. When used as directed, these insect repellents are proven safe and effective even for pregnant and breastfeeding women. Do not use insect repellents on babies younger than 2 months old. Do not use products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol on children younger than 3 years old.
–Mosquito netting can be used to cover babies younger than 2 months old in carriers, strollers or cribs to protect them from mosquito bites.
–Sleep under a mosquito bed net if air-conditioned or screened rooms are not available or if sleeping outdoors.
–Prevent sexual transmission of Zika by using condoms or not having sex.

Report suspected illness or learn more about mosquito-borne disease prevention methods.

Read more about Zohdy’s research findings with the Journal of Medical Entomology.

Learn more about the Abuzz app.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 hours ago

A second former Prattville police officer sentenced for theft

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall on Friday announced that former Prattville police officer John Wayne McDaniel Jr. has been sentenced for conspiracy to commit burglary, third-degree theft, second-degree theft of prescription medicine and criminal impersonation of a police officer.

McDaniel was sentenced in Autauga County Circuit Court to ten years for each count, with the sentences being split for him to serve three years in community corrections rather than prison. The sentences will run concurrently.

“It is always serious and a sad betrayal of the public’s trust when a law enforcement officer breaks the law he has sworn to uphold,” said Marshall.

He continued, “In this case, the court considered that McDaniel acknowledged his wrongdoing, cooperated in the investigation, and assisted with information for the prosecution of others in related crimes. His sentence takes this into account, yet imposes strong controls to invoke his prison sentence if he fails to abide by the strict standards of the community corrections program.”

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In the community corrections program, defendants may serve their time outside of prison or jail but are held to stringent conditions and supervision, and upon any failure to comply are subject to immediately being sent to jail or prison.

McDaniel’s cooperation was an integral factor in the successful prosecution of another former Prattville police officer, Leon Todd Townson, who was sentenced on Monday to serve ten years in prison for first-degree insurance fraud and conspiracy to commit first-degree burglary and and three years for third-degree burglary. Townson’s sentences run concurrently.

McDaniel and Townson were both originally charged with breaking into a home in 2015, and Townson was also charged in 2017 with defrauding an insurance agency by filing a claim worth $190,000 using false information.

Marshall commended Assistant Attorney General John Kachelman of the office’s Criminal Trials Division for his exemplary work in bringing these cases to a successful conclusion. The Attorney General also applauded Special Agents of his Investigations Division and thanked the Prattville Police Department for their crucial role in the investigation and prosecution of the two cases.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 hours ago

77-year-old identical twin sisters ‘serving up smiles’ at Alabama McDonald’s

A pair of 77-year-old identical twin sisters working at a Shelby County McDonald’s restaurant has customers saying, “I’m lovin’ it.”

Maryann Byrne and Alice Moore, the twins, are so popular that a customer called WBRC urging them to do a story about the sisters, who work at the location on Valleydale Road and the corner of Caldwell Mill Road.

Byrne and Moore do every task – from taking customers’ orders, to preparing food and pouring piping-hot cups of coffee – with genuine smiles that are contagious to co-workers and customers alike.

“Those two ladies are a breath of fresh air for all the people who come in here,” customer Rod Peeks told WBRC. “They’re just amazing.”

The sisters say it all comes down to them loving to serve others and caring about the people they interact with.

“The customers are gorgeous, they really are,” said Byrne. “They’re like your family members.”

“We like to make people happy. We like to please people. God made them and we need to please them,” added Moore.

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The story gets even better. The sisters get to work with another family member, as Moore’s daughter is the general manager of the restaurant.

“They’re my superstars and I love them to pieces. Please come in and see them,” Barbara Gibbs said about her mom and aunt.

Byrne calls her sister “the twin queen,” because Moore has a set of twins and her daughter Maria, the manager, gave birth to twin boys.

Watch the entire story below:

WBRC FOX6 News – Birmingham, AL

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 hours ago

Jefferson State Community College gets grant to improve biomedical training program

Gov. Kay Ivey has awarded Jefferson State Community College $220,817 to upgrade a program that trains students for jobs in the medical industry.

The grant, provided to the state by the Appalachian Regional Commission, will be used to purchase equipment, furniture and supplies to upgrade classroom and laboratory space for the college’s biomedical training program. The program trains students as biomedical equipment technicians in both manufacturing and healthcare.

“My administration has championed job growth in Alabama, and programs like this ensure that our workforce is trained and ready for those jobs,” Ivey said in a press release. “I am pleased that this ARC funding is helping to provide better opportunities for Alabama workers.”

Thirty-seven Alabama counties are members of the Appalachian Regional Commission and eligible for grant funds.

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4 hours ago

Congratulations to all of Alabama’s Congressional delegation on their re-elections

[WRITER’S NOTE: Before I get started, let me just short-circuit 90 percent of the response to what I am about to say is going to get: No, fivethirtyeight.com was not totally wrong about the presidential election. They said Hillary Clinton was going to win the popular vote, and she did.

If you are an elected Congressman from Alabama, you are good to go in November, according to FiveThirtyEight.

The least likely winner is Congresswoman Martha Roby, who is still expected to brutalize her opponent.

This should surprise absolutely no one. Alabama is still a red state. The only blue district in the state is a gerrymandered mess that includes Birmingham and Montgomery, so Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Birmingham) didn’t even draw an opponent.

The bigger story from fivethirtyeight.com is that their analysis shows two things:

1. Republicans are projected to lose, but it’s not impossible (this is better than the chance they gave Trump)

2. There are far more Solid D (188) seats than Solid R (146) seats, that means more seats for Republicans to defend, and that means less money for each one.

This could be a tough year for Republicans, but all is not lost yet.

@TheDaleJackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a conservative talk show  from 7-11 am weekdays on WVNN

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5 hours ago

See where Alabama schools rank in Princeton Review’s list of best colleges

The Princeton Review has released their trademark list of the “Best 384 Colleges” for 2019 and three Alabama schools made the cut.

To compile their latest edition, which is the 27th annual, the Princeton Review interviewed 138,000 students and examined the relevant data on the nation’s colleges.

See which Alabama institutions are on the list, and why, below:

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(Note that the following sub-rankings are only done for top 20 schools in each category)

Auburn University

Best Athletic Facilities – #2
Future Rotarians and DAR – #14
Happiest Students – #19
Students Pack the Stadiums – #5
Their Students Love These Colleges – #18
Town-Gown Relations are Great – #7

Academics, on a scale of 1-99: 75

Read more about Auburn’s inclusion here.

The University of Alabama

Best Athletic Facilities – #1
Best College Dorms – #13
Best-Run Colleges – #11
Lots of Greek Life – #5
Most Active Student Governments – #8

Academics, on a scale of 1-99: 77

Read more about UA’s inclusion here.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham

UAB’s post-graduate programs really push it over the top as a premier high-education institution.

The Princeton Review highlighted UAB by saying, “At the University of Alabama at Birmingham, professors and administrators ‘care about you.'” They also boast a relatively low student-to-faculty ratio.

Academics, on a scale of 1-99: 67

Read more about UAB’s inclusion here.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn