The Wire

  • Assistant U.S. attorney to replace Hart in leading Special Prosecutions Division

    Excerpt:

    Multiple sources have told Yellowhammer News that Anna “Clark” Morris, the first assistant U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama, will take over the Special Prosecutions Division of the Alabama Attorney General’s Office.

    The announcement could be made as soon as Tuesday. Attorney General Steve Marshall accepted the resignation of Deputy Attorney General Matt Hart, who has led the division for years, on Monday morning.

    Morris served as the acting U.S. Attorney for Alabama’s middle district last year, in between President Donald Trump firing former USA George Beck in March of 2017 and now-USA Louis Franklin being confirmed that September.

  • EPA official resigns after indictment on Alabama ethics charges, replaced by Alabama native

    Excerpt:

    Even with Trey Glenn leaving his post as the EPA’s Region Four administrator, Alabama will still have strong ties to the leader of that office.

    According to The Hill, Mary Walker was named by EPA acting administrator Andrew Wheeler to fill the vacant role in an acting capacity after Glenn resigned on Monday following his indictment on ethics charges in Alabama.

    Walker is a native of the Yellowhammer State and had been serving as Glenn’s deputy.

  • Tim Tebow Foundation’s Night to Shine coming to Birmingham in 2019

    Excerpt:

    The Tim Tebow Foundation’s “Night to Shine,” a magical prom night experience for people with special needs, is coming to Birmingham.

    Oak Mountain Presbyterian Church will serve as one of the nearly 500 churches around the world to host Night to Shine on February 8, 2019.

    Night to Shine is an event for people 14 and older with special needs to receive royal treatment. Guests will enter the event on a red carpet filled with a crowd and paparazzi. Once they make it into the building, guests will be able to choose from an array of activities to partake in including hair and makeup stations, shoe shining areas and limousine rides. They can also choose their corsages and boutonnieres.

5 months ago

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

(P. Smith)

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.

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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)

7 months ago

Auburn forestry alum creates conservation site for endangered red-cockaded woodpecker

(J. Maxwell/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Charley Tarver has dedicated his life to conserving the longleaf pine ecosystem. So in 1999, when presented the opportunity to buy a plantation in southwest Georgia, he did not hesitate.
Tarver, a 1968 alumnus of Auburn University’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences and founder of Forest Investment Associates, has turned his longleaf pine forest into a conservation site for the endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers, or RCWs.

“A significant portion of Longleaf Plantation is old growth longleaf forest with an open understory, primarily occupied by wiregrass and other warm-season native grasses and legumes. It is prime habitat for RCWs,” Tarver said.

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Tarver’s Longleaf Plantation was the third property in Georgia to be enrolled in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Safe Harbor Agreement for RCWs in 2001. As of today, Tarver believes there are about a dozen RCWs living on his property.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, there are only 3,150 active clusters of RCWs left in the southeastern United States.

In 2012, Tarver had the first RCW to occupy a cavity at Longleaf Plantation. He named the bird “Eglin,” for the U.S. Air Force base from which biologists located the bird before releasing him in southwest Georgia.

Jonathan Burnam, a wildlife biologist for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, says Tarver’s efforts are helping to expand an established RCW population near his property. “Mr. Tarver’s willingness to manage the habitat and create clusters is regionally important in that it provides connectivity with a growing woodpecker population next door,” Burnam said.

One of Tarver’s favorite experiences from Longleaf Plantation happened in January, when he was able to capture and band the first RCW to fledge at Longleaf. With this bird, he decided to pay homage to his alma mater. “I named him ‘Aubie’ and his bands are, of course, orange and blue.”

For Tarver, successfully establishing a viable population isn’t the only reward from Longleaf Plantation. “I am also richly rewarded by sharing Longleaf and its RCWs with friends who understand the importance of conservation efforts on private lands,” he said.

Tarver hopes his efforts to conserve the RCW population will inspire others to do the same. “I hope that our work at Longleaf on longleaf restoration and management, as well as our work with RCWs, will inspire other private landowners to join the effort to restore the southeastern longleaf forest to a more dominant position throughout its range from Virginia to Texas.”

More information about red-cockaded woodpecker conservation efforts are available here.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)