Social media and blood suckers showcased at the International Congress of Entomology

instagram_wetlands_webb

Digital technology is changing a lot about how we undertake entomological research and communicate the results of that research to the community and policy makers.

This week in Orlando, Florida, is the International Congress of Entomology (ICE). A huge gathering of entomologists from around the world. While it was a great pleasure to be invited to participate, I couldn’t get over there this time.

I will, however, have a chance to present my work in the Symposium “Entomology in the Digital Age”  Friday, September 30, 2016 (01:30 PM – 04:45 PM), Convention Centre Room W222 A.

In the presentation I’ll share some of the reasoning behind my use of social media to engage the community with both entomological research and public health communication. Most importantly, it will focus on some of the metrics I’ve recorded alongside my use of social media, maintaining a blog of research and writing for outlets such as The Conversation.

I’ve written about my use of social media and how it can help extend the reach of public health messages and presented on the topic alongside a range of great speakers at the 2014 Entomological Society of America meeting in Portland.

This time around, technology is playing an even more direct role in my presentation! I’ve pre-recorded my presentation and it will be shown to the audience on the day among other presentations. I’ll also be checking into the session to answer questions. Despite the fact I’ll need to be up around 1:30am due to time differences, it should be fun.

See the abstract below…

Taking entomological research from the swamps to the suburbs with social media

Cameron E Webb

Connecting scientists and the community is critical. This is particularly the case for medical entomologists working in the field of mosquito-borne disease where the translation of entomological research into improved public health outcomes is a priority. While traditional media has been the mainstay of public health communications by local authorities, social media provides new avenues for disseminating information and engaging with the wider community. This presentation will share some insights into how the use of social media has connected new and old communications strategies to not only extend the reach of public health messages but also provide an opportunity to promote entomological research and wetland conservation. A range of social media platforms, including Twitter, Instagram, and WordPress, were employed to disseminate public health messages and engage the community and traditional media outlets. Engagement with the accounts of traditional media (e.g. radio, print, television, online) was found to be the main route to increased exposure and, subsequently, to increased access of public health information online. With the increasing accessibility of the community to online resources via smartphones, researchers and public health advocates must develop strategies to effectively use social media. Many people now turn to social media as a source of news and information and those in the field of public health, as well as entomological research more generally, must take advantage of these new opportunities. doi: 10.1603/ICE.2016.94611


If you’re at ICE, you can also catch up with my PhD student David Lilly who’ll be presenting our research into the development of insecticide resistance in bed bugs as part of the symposium “New Insights into Biology, Resistance Mechanisms, and the Management of the Modern Bed Bug” Friday, September 30, 2016, 01:30 PM – 04:45 PM, Convention Center, West Hall F4 (WF4).

Novel insecticide resistant mechanisms in the common bed bug, Cimex lectularius

David Lilly, Cameron E Webb and Stephen Doggett

Introduction: Research on field strains of Cimex lectularius from Australia has identified widespread resistance to pyrethroid insecticides, but variability in the magnitude expressed. To determine if differences in resistance mechanisms exist, collected strains were examined for the presence of metabolic detoxification and/or cuticle thickening. Methods: The presence and relative contribution of detoxifying esterases or cytochrome P450 monooxygenases were assessed. Bed bugs collected from Parramatta (NSW), Melbourne (VIC) – 2 strains, ‘No.2’ and ‘No.4’, and Alice Springs (NT) were exposed in topical bioassays employing deltamethrin and two pyrethroid synergists: piperonyl butoxide (PBO) and EN16/5-1. PBO inhibits both monooxygenases and esterases, whereas EN16/5-1 will inhibit esterases only. Thus in a comparative bioassay, the results can infer the dominant enzyme system. The Parramatta strain was then selected to study the potential presence of cuticle thickening. Nine-day-old male bed bugs were exposed to filter papers treated with the highest label rate of Demand Insecticide®(200mL/10L of 25g/L lambda-cyhalothrin) and were grouped according to time-to-knockdown (< 2 hours, ≥ 4 hours, and survivors at 24 hours). Measurements of mean cuticle thickness at the transverse midpoint of the second leg tarsus were taken under electron microscope. Results/Conclusion: All strains possessed resistance that was inhibited by the synergists, with the Parramatta and Melbourne No.2 indicating esterase-dominance, and Alice Springs and Melbourne No.4 indicating cytochrome P450 monooxygenase-dominance. Cuticular measurements demonstrated that bed bugs surviving deltamethrin exposure had significantly thicker cuticles, denoting a novel form of resistance in these insects. doi: 10.1603/ICE.2016.92553

 

You can also see Stephen Doggett (co-author and photographer of A Guide to Mosquitoes of Australia) speaking on photographing mosquitoes to in the symposium “Insect Photography Symposium: Bringing the Small to the World.


You can join the conversation on Twitter and keep an eye on all the fun in Orlando by keeping an eye on the tweet stream!

 

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Taking Australian wetland research to China

jayne_mosquitotrap

My PhD student Jayne Hanford has been super busy this year. Not much more than a year into her candidature and she has already locked away a summer of research and has been presenting her findings at conferences here in Australia as well as overseas.

After recently sharing our research at the Society for Wetland Scientists Annual Conference held in Corpus Christi, Texas, USA and the Mosquito Control Association of Australia conference on the Gold Coast, Jayne is off to China for the 10th INTECOL International Wetlands Conference.

Her research is focused on understanding the links between wetland vegetation, aquatic biodiversity and mosquito populations. Better understanding of these links will assist management strategies that minimise actual and potential pest and public health risks associated with mosquitoes and urban wetlands.

Our abstract for the conference is below:

Is the Biodiversity Value of Constructed Wetlands Linked to their Potential Mosquito-Related Public Health Risks?

Jayne Hanford1, Cameron Webb2, Dieter Hochuli1

1School of Life and Environmental Sciences, The University of Sydney, Australia; 2Department of Medical Entomology, Westmead Hospital and The University of Sydney, Westmead, Australia

 Stormwater treatment wetlands constructed in cities can enhance the sustainability of urban biodiversity by providing wildlife refuge areas and habitat connectivity. However, the creation of wetlands for stormwater infrastructure can increase risks to public health and wellbeing by proliferating nuisance-biting and pathogen-transmitting mosquitoes. In severe cases, this proliferation can erode goodwill in the community for creating and protecting valuable wetland systems.  We compared mosquito assemblages at 24 natural and constructed urban wetlands in the greater Sydney region, Australia. Our aim was to determine if stormwater wetlands constructed with the goal to support high biodiversity value also had reduced associated mosquito risks. Wetlands were located across a gradient of urbanisation determined by surrounding human population density, and included sites with different aquatic and riparian habitat complexity and availability. Adult and larval mosquitoes and aquatic macroinvertebrates were sampled on two occasions through summer and autumn. Aquatic macroinvertebrates were used to derive health indices, as well as being a relative measure of aquatic diversity.  Diversity of adult mosquito species was high, and abundance varied greatly between wetlands. Macroinvertebrate assemblages were also highly variable between sites. Wetlands with greater habitat complexity had lower adult mosquito abundance and greater mosquito species diversity, compared to stormwater-specific wetlands with minimal available habitat. As expected, mosquito assemblages did not respond to urbanisation and aquatic macroinvertebrate assemblages per se, but appeared to respond to a complex suite of coarse and fine-scale features that may affect a wetland’s biodiversity value.  Effectively integrating wetlands into cities requires balancing their design for water infrastructure purposes, biodiversity resources and public health and wellbeing requirements. Understanding the risks as well as the benefits will enhance the value of constructed urban wetlands in sustainable cities while minimising public health risks posed by mosquitoes.

Jayne will be speaking in the “The next generation of wetland science: ecosystems, applications, and engineering” session in the Nanhu Room 1520-1530 on Wednesday 21 September.

You can keep an eye on whats happening in China by following Jayne on Twitter and checking the hashtag

westernsydneywetlands

The Society for Wetland Scientists Annual Conference held in Corpus Christi, Texas, USA back in May included a paper by Jayne titled “Risky Wetlands? Conflicts between biodiversity value and public health” and prompted some great feedback and discussion among wetland scientists at the meeting. It was a successful trip and a timely reminder that I must get to one of the SWS meetings sometime soon, perhaps Puerto Rico?

Keep an eye out for Jayne’s research publications soon!

 

 

 

From publication to the public: Can blogging scientific papers stop people getting sick?

Webb_Mangroves2Why should academics blog? Answers to this question vary. On one hand it provides an opportunity to “spread to word” on newly published research. However, I’d argue that, more importantly, it is about getting the message out beyond the scientific community.

Do your research findings have something to offer the community?

I occupy a space somewhere between research and policy. While I undertake research, I’m also involved in disease surveillance, policy development and public health education. A critical component of my work (particularly in my role as a senior investigator with the Centre for Infectious Disease and Microbiology Public Health) is translating research for improved public health outcomes. Blogging helps me do this. Studies have suggested that this is why many other academic blog too. This also one reason why the use of social media by academics is encouraged.

I wanted the share an example of how blogging can increase the impact of your published research.

Much of the research I’ve done on mosquito repellents is prompted by questions I’m asked at public events and presentations. It is also informed by regular visits to the “insect repellent” shelves of the local supermarket. I believe public health messages need to keep place with the changing face of commercial formulations. This has led to work on botanical mosquito repellents (here and here and here), combined formulations of mosquito repellents and sunscreen and advice on using repellents in tropical areas where dengue is a risk. I’m also often pulling all this information together in one place.

wristbandOne of the most common questions I’m asked is if mosquito repellent wrist bands/bracelets protect against mosquito bites. These products seem like a great idea and an alternative to topical repellents would be welcome by many.

Clearly there is demand for information as Google searches for “mosquito repellent wrist bands” are far and away the most common way new readers visit my blog. Of the top 20 search terms used to find my blog, 15 of the phrases contain “bands” or “bracelets”.

In 2009 I published a paper titled “Do wrist bands impregnated with botanical extracts assist in repelling mosquitoes?” in General and Applied Entomology. This is a very small journal published once per year by the NSW Entomological Society. The journal doesn’t have an impact factor and I suspect that many of the papers are only read by members of the society who receive a hard copy in the post. Once papers are 12 months old, they are made available on the website to download as PDF but I have no idea how frequently they’re accessed, particularly not by the general public.

Why did I published that work in General and Applied Entomology? Good question. At the time I probably didn’t appreciate how much interest would be in the work. The other issue is that I’d had some trouble getting “negative” results of mosquito repellent testing published. Also, as a member of the local society, I was keen to contribute and this was a relatively straight forward paper to write. Hindsight is wonderful though and clearly this could have gone elsewhere.

The results of this research could easily have been locked away in scientific literature obscurity forever. Fortunately, I started blogging.

repellentrackI recently wrote about the publication in the post “Do mosquito repellent wrist bands work?“. This is now one of the most read posts on my blog with over 22,000 views of the article since late November 2013. Would I be excited if that many people read a paper of mine online at a Journal’s website? Of course. I get excited when over a 1,000 people read or download a paper!

Perhaps most importantly, the key message from that paper is freely available and easily accessed by those in search of information. There is also the backing of a peer-reviewed publication if people want to dig back a little deeper to find more information about the science behind the testing of these products. This isn’t the kind of information usually provided in fact sheets and websites of local health authorities.

The other benefit of have a blog is that it provides an easily accessible place to redirect people to who are asking questions via Twitter. I could always direct people to journal articles but often all they can access is the abstract. I’d prefer to send them to my blog.

Does this change people’s opinions? That is a more difficult question to answer but I would hope that with that many people accessing my article, the message is getting out there. I hope it is also spreading as much by word of mouth as well as via the world wide web. I’ve been contacted and quoted in a number of online and print publications so the post has also provided a stepping stone for contact with other media outlets.

This is just one example of how maintaining a blog and writing about published research can help improve public health awareness. Hopefully that blog post will stop a few people getting sick from mosquito bites in the coming years.

Why not join the conversation on Twitter and help share other examples of where blogging about scientific research has helped the community access public health information.

Should we mix mosquito repellents and sunscreens?

MosquitoRepellents_childarm_webbCombining mosquito repellents with sunscreens, as well as other cosmetics, sounds like a great idea but perhaps it isn’t to best way to protect ourselves from exposure to both the sun and mosquitoes.

There are formulations that combine mosquito repellents with various skin moisturizers but the most common combination formulations contain sunscreen and repellents. A combined formulation make sense given that Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer anywhere in the world. Even the Cancer Council have their own “Repel Sunscreen” formulations.

Combined formulations but conflicting risks

As well as questions regarding the efficacy of these formulations, there have also been some questions regarding their safety. Do they lessen the protection against the sun? Do they lessen the protection against mosquitoes? Do they increase the potential risk of toxic reactions to mosquito repellents?

One study found that the inclusion of mosquito repellent in sunscreen actually reduced the sun protection factor of the sunscreen. In 2009, I published a paper in Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health that investigated the efficacy of combined sunscreen and insect repellent formulations. The key finding was that no loss of protection from mosquito bites was provided by these combined formulations when compared to low and high dose “mosquito repellent only” formulations. The finding supported previous studies that indicated sunscreen does not reduce the efficacy of insect repellent. However, where we went further was to try and provide some guidelines for use of these products to maximise mosquito bite protection but also to minimise any potential adverse reactions to repellents.

I've provided plenty of deail of how to choose and use mosquito repellents in the "beating the bite" guidelines freely available for download

I’ve provided plenty of detail of how to choose and use mosquito repellents in the “Beating the Bite” guidelines freely available for download

This issue of conflicted use was highlighted in a review of sunscreen labelling recommendations and combination sunscreen/insect repellent products that outlined concerns that “the application of a combination product too frequently poses the risk of insect repellent toxicity, whereas application too infrequently invites photodamage”.

Could combined formulations raise potential over exposure to mosquito repellents?

It is important to note that many published studies and reviews have shown that DEET does not pose a significant health concern (see here too). A recent review of safety surveillance from extensive humans use reveals no association with severe adverse events. In short, if a DEET-based mosquito repellent is used as recommended, there are no major concerns for health risk.

What if the use of a combined repellent and sunscreen formulations results in the application rate of repellent above and beyond recommended rates?

How much repellent are you using with sunscreen?

The recommended use of sunscreens and repellents are quite different. As well as the frequency of reapplications (sunscreen every two hours; repellent reapplication is determined by the “strength” but may be up to four hours for mid-range formulations), the quantity used will vary. Mosquito repellents require a thin application over all exposed skin to provide effectiveness. When the applications rates providing effective protection in mosquito repellent studies are compared to those for sunscreen use (i.e. approximately 30ml applied across the forearms, legs, torso and back 20 minutes before going outside and reapplied every two hours), application rates for sunscreens are approximately 3-5 times greater.

Are you using repellent when you don’t need to?

It is interesting to note the differences in the use pattern of sunscreen and mosquito repellent use. In many instances, nuisance-biting mosquitoes will generally be more active during periods when sun exposure risk is low (e.g. late afternoon, evening and early morning). However, as I pointed out in this paper on mosquito repellent use to reduce the risk of dengue, protection against these day-biting mosquitoes could call for the use of both products simultaneously. There is also no doubt that under some circumstances in coastal regions of Australia, mosquitoes can be out and about biting in shaded environments (places like mangrove forests and coastal swamp forests) during the day.

The Yellow Fever Mosquito, Aedes aegypti (Photo: Stephen Doggett)

The Yellow Fever Mosquito, Aedes aegypti (Photo: Stephen Doggett)

What should you do?

I’m not aware of any review in Australia to reconsider the registration or recommendations surrounding the use of combined mosquito repellent and sunscreen formulations. In most instances, the advice provided by local authorities is simply to “follow label instructions”.

Combined mosquito repellent and sunscreen formulations are not recommended by the CDC. It is worth noting that also in Canada, combined sunscreen and insect repellents are not recommended. It is suggested to apply the sunscreen first, then the insect repellent over the top. The only problem is that as repellent will generally last longer than sunscreen, you end up alternating application of the two products.

We tested the idea that repellents should be applied first and then sunscreen over the top. While testing the efficacy of sunscreen wasn’t in the scope fo our study, we found that the efficacy of repellent (as measured by the duration of protection) was actually reduced. The reduction, we concluded, was probably due to physical disruption of the original mosquito repellent application during subsequent sunscreen application.

It should be noted once again that repeated reviews have concluded that DEET-based repellents pose a very low risk of adverse health impacts. However, if you were to take a cautious approach, if there is a risk of possible adverse reaction to repellents, this may be more likely to happen when using high dose DEET-based repellents (e.g. “tropical strength” repellents that may contain over 80% DEET) in combination with sunscreen. If you want to lower the risks as much as possible, using a low-dose DEET-based (e.g. containing less than 10% DEET), or picaridin-based, repellent will more closely align the recommended reapplication times of the two products.

If you’re looking for sunscreen advice, visit the Cancer Council website here.

The full reference for our 2009 paper is below:

Webb, C. E. and Russell, R. C. (2009) Insect repellents and sunscreen: implications for personal protection strategies against mosquito-borne disease. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 33: 485–490.

Can we genetically modify malaria mosquitoes to extinction?

angambiae_wikicommonsMalaria no more? A new study has provided a pathway to possibly driving one of the most important malaria transmitting mosquitoes to extinction by using genetically modified mosquitoes that produce almost entirely male offspring. Without many females, the mosquito population will crash. A decline in the number of malaria cases should similarly follow.

There has been much research, as well as community discussion, regarding the use of genetically modified mosquitoes (and sometimes the pathogens themselves) to reduce the impacts of mosquito-borne disease. The recent proposals around the use of genetically modified mosquitoes to assist in the control of dengue outbreaks have been attracting many headlines, including both excitement and concern.

The new study, “A synthetic sex ratio distortion system for the control of the human malaria mosquito” (published in Nature Communications), reports on the genetic modification of mosquitoes that only produce sperm that result in (mostly) only male offspring. The researchers used a modified enzyme that attacks a specific region of the X-chromosome, preventing it being passed onto the next generation. Mating between GM mosquitoes and “wild type” mosquitoes produced up to 97.4% male mosquitoes.

In addition, the researchers demonstrated that once the wheels are set in motion, there is the potential that the spread of these  mosquitoes carrying “male only sperm” pass on the trait to their offspring and then their offspring. It is hoped that as these mosquitoes spread throughout the environment, eventually, the population of mosquitoes will crash as female mosquitoes are removed. The theory was tested in the laboratories and the researchers found that it took about 6 generations for the populations to crash (but they did need to start off with three times as many genetically modified mosquitoes to “wild type” mosquitoes).

While the technology is new, the idea was first proposed in the 1950s. The idea that you can distort the sex ratio of insect populations to control pest impacts had been proposed with various approaches to achieve it. The latest approach provides a novel way to apply the strategy to mosquitoes.

An illustration taken from "This is Ann, she's dying to meet you" produced by US War Department, 1943

An illustration taken from “This is Ann, she’s dying to meet you” produced by US War Department, 1943

Doesn’t this latest research mean, in theory, you could make mosquitoes extinct?

The results from the current study are fascinating but it is still very early days before it is known if this approach works under field conditions and can actually reduce malaria, let alone drive mosquitoes to extinction. Keep in mind that this study focuses on just one of the thousands of mosquito species found throughout the world.

The mosquito the researchers from the Imperial College of London used was one of the key vectors of malaria parasites, Anopheles gambiae. This species belongs to a group of mosquitoes that contain up to 40 different species that may play a role in the transmission of malaria parasites. The fact that there are so many mosquito species capable of transmitting malaria parasites makes developing a “silver bullet” approach to control difficult.

Global distribution of potentially important malaria vectors (Taken from: Kiszewksi et al., 2004. American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene 70(5):486-498.)

Global distribution of potentially important malaria vectors (Taken from: Kiszewksi et al., 2004. American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene 70(5):486-498 via CDC)

There are many ecological and operational issues surrounding the release of genetically modified mosquitoes. Notwithstanding any fitness cost (e.g. less effective mating with “wild type” mosquitoes, lower fecundity, lower survival of immature stages, smaller dispersal ranges) that may put the genetically modified mosquitoes at a competitive disadvantage in the field, there are the issues of determining when, how many, and how frequently, genetically modified mosquitoes must be released into the environment. Some of these issues are discussed in this discussion paper and I’ve written about regulation here.

Even if the laboratory technique is translated to the field, and it worked, what would happen if you drove local populations of Anopheles gambiae to extinction?

I’m not sure that there is any research that identifies the ecological role of these mosquitoes. There certainly hasn’t been any work, to my knowledge, that addresses the issue in the same way we studied the ecological role of the Australian mosquitoes that spread Ross River virus. However, the potential ecological impacts of genetically modified mosquitoes have been identified.

Putting aside the issues of ecological impact (perhaps there wouldn’t be any significant ecological impact?), what would be the impact on human health? This is the critical issue. We know that by reducing the contact between mosquitoes and humans through the use of bed nets and insecticides can reduce the incidents of malaria, what if populations of Anopheles gambiae were significantly reduced or eradicated?

Malaria eradication campaigns have been with us for decades but are they now transitioning from spraying insecticides to releases genetically modified mosquitoes? (Source: National Library of Medicine)

Malaria eradication campaigns have been with us for decades but are they now transitioning from spraying insecticides to releases genetically modified mosquitoes? (Source: National Library of Medicine)

One of the problems may be that the ecological niche exploited by Anopheles gambiae is simply taken up by another of the mosquitoes able to transmit malaria. Anopheles gambiae is a pretty good competitor and if you take it out of the environment, another Anopheles species may move in. There is no doubt that Anopheles gambiae is one of the most important vectors of malaria parasites but even if a “replacement” species moves in, outbreaks of disease may still be less than before. However, health authorities will still need to call on traditional mosquito control and malaria prevention strategies. A balance is required when assessing the cost effectiveness of the new and old strategies.

Amongst the wave of new technologies purported to aid in the battle against malaria, it is worth noting that current methods of prevention (e.g. bed nets) and control (e.g. insecticides), in combination with better diagnosis and treatment, have contributed to a reduction in world wide malaria mortality rates by 42% since 2000. Combining different mixes of approaches (e.g. bed nets and residual insecticide treatments) has been shown to be potentially significant. In the future, perhaps genetically modified mosquitoes should be added to this mix too.

You can listen (stream or download) to me chat with James Carleton about the implications of the research on Radio National’s Breakfast. There has also been plenty of news coverage following the publication of the research, a good overview is here.

Why not join the conversation by following me on Twitter?

The photo of the malaria vector, Anopheles gambiae, at the top of this post is taken from here (CDC/James Gathany)

What do you need to know about West Nile virus?

With the arrival of mosquito season in North America, health authorities have started issuing warnings about prevention of potentially fatal West Nile virus. My latest coauthored publication reviews the epidemiological and clinical aspects of this mosquito-borne pathogen.

West Nile virus is a pathogen generally spread by mosquitoes from birds to humans. While only about one in five people infected develop symptoms (inc fever, headache, body aches, nausea, vomiting, swollen lymph glands or a skin rash.), for those over 50, there can be more serious implications and the illness may be fatal. There is currently no vaccine, avoiding mosquito bites is the only way to prevent disease.

The virus was first detected in North America in 1999 and has since spread from coast to coast, having a significant impact on the health of both people (resulting in an economic burden of around $56 million per year) and wildlife (particularly birds). Interestingly, from 2007 there was a steady decline in the activity of the virus and many thought that major outbreaks would be a thing of the past but 2012 saw a one of the largest outbreaks in almost a decade. During this time, Texas was particularly hard hit with 1,868 cases and estimated costs of around US$47.6 million.

The activity of the virus in 2013 wasn’t insignificant either.

WNV_19992013

Annual total numbers of West Nile virus disease cases and deaths reported by CDC 1999-2013.

It hasn’t only been North America that has been impacted by West Nile virus. Outbreaks of human and animal illness have also been reported in Europe. In fact, cases of West Nile virus were reported from France in the 1960s. However, there wasn’t a major outbreak until 1996-1997; prompting warnings from health authorities about the future risks associated with this pathogen in Europe. The activity of the virus in North American, Europe and Africa provides interesting opportunities to research the genetic differences between regions and potential implications for surveillance and disease control. Europe has developed an extensive surveillance program to assess activity of endemic and exotic mosquitoes and activity of the virus.

Human illness in Europe resulting from West Nile virus infection during 2012 (European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control)

It is interesting to note that one of the key factors linking outbreaks of West Nile virus in both North America and Europe is the presence of closely related mosquitoes. Unlike dengue, chikungunya or yellow fever viruses that are spread by Aedes mosquitoes, and malaria parasites by Anopheles mosquitoes, West Nile virus is primarily spread by Culex mosquitoes. In particular, the bird-feeding mosquitoes within the Culex pipiens group.

The Culex pipiens group, particularly Culex pipiens, Culex quinquefasciatus and Culex molestus, are closely associated with urban environments. With mosquitoes found in close contact with humans, there is greater risk associated with potential outbreaks.

Our recent review article in the International Journal of General Medicine provides an overview of the clinical and epidemiological aspects of West Nile virus and is a good starting point for anyone interested in this pathogen and the factors that drive outbreaks in North America and Europe.

The abstract of our paper is here:

The reurgence of West Nile virus (WNV) in North America and Europe in recent years has raised the concerns of local authorities and highlighted that mosquito-borne disease is not restricted to tropical regions of the world. WNV is maintained in enzootic cycles involving, primarily, Culex spp. mosquitoes and avian hosts, with epizootic spread to mammals, including horses and humans. Human infection results in symptomatic illness in approximately one-fifth of cases and neuroinvasive disease in less than 1% of infected persons. The most consistently recognized risk factor for neuroinvasive disease is older age, although diabetes mellitus, alcohol excess, and a history of cancer may also increase risk. Despite the increasing public health concern, the current WNV treatments are inadequate. Current evidence supporting the use of ribavirin, interferon α, and WNV-specific immunoglobulin are reviewed. Nucleic acid detection has been an important diagnostic development, which is particularly important for the protection of the donated blood supply. While effective WNV vaccines are widely available for horses, no human vaccine has been registered. Uncertainty surrounds the magnitude of future risk posed by WNV, and predictive models are limited by the heterogeneity of environmental, vector, and host factors, even in neighboring regions. However, recent history has demonstrated that for regions where suitable mosquito vectors and reservoir hosts are present, there will be a risk of major epidemics. Given the potential for these outbreaks to include severe neuroinvasive disease, strategies should be implemented to monitor for, and respond to, outbreak risk. While broadscale mosquito control programs will assist in reducing the abundance of mosquito populations and subsequently reduce the risks of disease, for many individuals, the use of topical insect repellents and other personal protective strategies will remain the first line of defense against infection.

The full paper can be downloaded for free here.

You can also read more background to West Nile virus and the 2012 outbreak in my piece for The Conversation. For a comprehensive look at how the pathogen is managed in North America, download the CDC publication “West Nile Virus in the United States: Guidelines for Surveillance, Prevention, and Control“.

Why not join the conversation on Twitter by following me at @mozziebites?

The image at the top of this piece is taken from Mother Jones.

A manual for managing urban wetlands

Webb_Mangroves2The protection and rehabilitation of urban wetlands is critical. They are under threat from urbanisation and a changing climate climate but perhaps the greatest risk is disengagement from the community with many not really know the true value of our wetlands.

I have had a long and productive working relationship with the Sydney Olympic Park Authority (SOPA). One of the most enjoyable activities has been serving as a member of the Wetlands Education and Training (WET) Program Advisory Panel. A small group of wetland scientists assist SOPA develop and coordinate workshops for scientists, managers, policy makers and teachers. The program has been in place since 2002 and over 30 workshops have been held since then. There have two very successful “managing mosquitoes” workshops in recent years with the next scheduled for 2015 (keep your eyes out for that one)

After ten years of working with a diverse range of professionals, it was decided that the collected wisdom of those groups and individuals should be brought together in the form of a resource for those managing urban wetlands. In particular, it would draw on many of the experiences within the wetland of Sydney Olympic Park.

WetlandsManualThe “WET eBook: Workbook for Managing Urban Wetlands in Australia” was launched on Thursday 28 November 2013 in conjunction with a two-day workshop on constructed wetlands management. The eBook was officially launched by Michael Knight, Chair of the Sydney Olympic Park Authority. Michael is well connected to the Sydney Olympics, serving as Minister for the Olympics between 1995 and 2001 in NSW, and it could be argued that, without the hosting of the 200 Olympics, many of the current wetlands around the area may not exist today.

I’ve contributed three chapters to the eBook. They can be downloaded individually but don’t just stick to the mozzies, there is lots more valuable information contained within the 400 or so pages. A wide range of topics, across broad topic areas of estuarine wetlands, freshwater wetlands, monitoring, developing a plan of management, are covered and a concluding section brings everything together. In fact, I was given the opportunity to be lead author on the final chapter, identifying and bringing together many of the challenges faced by urban wetlands and mapping out a way forward for wetland conservation.

My chapters and direct links to the individual PDFs are below.

Webb C.E. (2013) Managing mosquitoes in constructed freshwater wetlands. ‘Workbook for managing urban wetlands in Australia’ (Ed. S. Paul) 1st edn. (Sydney Olympic Park Authority) ISBN 978-0-9874020-0-4

Webb C.E. (2013) Managing mosquitoes in coastal wetlands. ‘Workbook for managing urban wetlands in Australia’ (Ed. S. Paul) 1st edn. (Sydney Olympic Park Authority) ISBN 978-0-9874020-0-4

Webb C.E. et al. (2013) Facing the challenges of managing urban wetlands in Australia: the way forward. ‘Workbook for managing urban wetlands in Australia’ (Ed. S. Paul) 1st edn. (Sydney Olympic Park Authority) ISBN 978-0-9874020-0-4