Fight Against Malaria Takes Odd New Turn

malaria
A new study has found a possible way to stop at least one species of mosquito from giving you malaria – by infecting them with a special strain of bacteria.

Researchers have found that infecting mosquitoes with the Wolbachia bacterium makes it nearly impossible for malaria to survive in the insects, thus keeping them from spreading it to humans, the BBC reports. The technique was tested on Anopheles stephensi, a species that ranges from the Middle East to Asia. An example is shown here in this Wikimedia Commons image. This remarkable photograph shows the insect sucking blood from a human. It’s become so engorged it’s actually ejecting extra blood from its rear end. Sorry if you were eating when you saw this but hey, it’s in the name of science.

The bacteria passed from female mosquitoes to their offspring, opening up the possibility of infecting the entire species. Researchers followed 34 generations of infected mosquitoes and found the bacteria passed on through all of them. The results have been published in the journal Science. A study last year showed the same bacteria can be used to stop dengue fever.

The technique has not yet been tried on Anopheles gambiae, the main source of malaria in Africa.

This potential breakthrough in the fight against malaria is coming along at an important time, now that mosquitoes are developing a resistance to DEET.

Mosquitoes Becoming Immune To DEET, Study Suggests

Deet, mosquito
According to a new study, mosquitoes are learning to ignore DEET, the BBC reports.

Researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine tested the responses to DEET by the Aedes aegypti, a type of mosquito that can carry yellow fever and dengue fever and is thus particularly dangerous to adventure travelers.

In a new study published in the journal PLOS ONE, researchers say that while mosquitoes are at first repelled by DEET’s smell, they soon become accustomed to it and can return bite the wearer. Electrodes attached to the insects’ antennae show that they adjust to the scent of DEET and simply stop smelling it.

This is something I’ve heard campers and hikers comment on for quite some time now. Spending time in mosquito-ridden Missouri, I’ve noticed this trend myself. Missouri has about 55 known types of mosquito, including the Aedes aegypti.

An earlier study has raised questions about DEET being a neurotoxin. It looks like science’s next task is to find a better insect repellent.

I’ve also noticed that mosquito coils, which do not have DEET as an active ingredient, no longer seem to work on Missouri mosquitoes either. I enjoy sitting on the porch swing of my friend’s house reading. It used to be that a burning coil set nearby would keep the bugs away. No more. The last time I tried it the little bastards were attacking me so much I actually put the coil under the porch swing so the smoke rose right onto me. The mosquitoes didn’t seem to care. I soon retreated inside.

[Photo of Aedes aegypti courtesy US Department of Agriculture]

Travel Smarter 2012: Travel tips for health and wellness

Films like “Contagion” (which I very much enjoyed, and not just because Gwyneth Paltrow bites it within the first 10 minutes) instill a paranoia in the public consciousness about the hazards of air travel. It’s true, however, that most public transportation is the equivalent of a mobile petri dish; one can’t deny the inherent germiness lurking within. Subsequently, antibacterial hand gel is my new best friend.

There are other quasi-self-inflicted, travel-related maladies: neck and back pain, deep vein thrombosis (DVT), infectious disease, foodborne illness, stress–all of which kind of make you wonder why we travel in the name of relaxation, but I digress.

For many, myself included, part of the thrill of recreational travel is the element of risk involved, even if said danger involves nothing more than scarfing down a few street tacos. Regardless of why you travel, there are always new products on the market designed to make your trip more comfortable, or minimize your chances of getting sick. New research on the hazards and benefits of travel also keep us informed about what we can do to stay healthier on the road.

Below are my picks for making travel in 2012 a little less treacherous:

1. Reduce your risk of DVT
New studies show that choosing the window seat on a long flight can increase your chances of developing DVT. A theoretical DVT risk known as “economy class syndrome” (how’s that for an “f-you” to airlines?) has been debated for years, and attributed to the lack of legroom in coach.

Now, however, the American College of Chest Physicians have determined that the real issue is that window-seat fliers have limited opportunities to walk and stretch their legs during lengthy flights, which can lead to potentially fatal blood clots that may travel to the lungs (pulmonary embolism). There are a number of factors that contribute to one’s risk of DVT including age, preexisting health conditions, certain medications, and recent surgery, but even if you don’t fit these criteria, you should always try to get out of your seat and/or do some stretching exercises and leg movements once an hour during long flights. In other words, consider the aisle the path to clot-free veins.

2. Time-release DEET
Some people have no problem dousing themselves in insecticide, personal health and environmental side effects be damned. I used to silently sneer at those people while I sat around the campfire, my unprotected skin providing nutrients to legions of winged, blood-sucking creatures. What were a few bites (Note: it was never just a few bites; try dozens) compared to not getting cancer or maintaining the purity of the local watershed?

Then I got sick as a result of deadly bacteria-harboring sandflies, and now I’m one of those people who understand why DEET exists. I still don’t like it–it’s definitely not something I, nor the CDC, recommend using with abandon–but it’s critical for protecting yourself from mosquitoes, sandflies, ticks, and other potentially harmful insects, in conjunction with protective attire such as long socks, long-sleeved shirts, and pants (you can also purchase insect-repellent clothing). Note that I’m not taking into account malarial conditions, in which case you should be supplementing your DEET applications with a doctor-prescribed anti-malarial drug.

I was thrilled when I recently discovered controlled release DEET at my neighborhood travel store. Sawyer® Premium Controlled Release Insect Repellent is designed to “reduce the rate of DEET absorption” by 67% per application, and “extend the duration of its effectiveness.” This 20% DEET lotion is also odorless, so you don’t have to huff noticeably toxic fumes all day.

3. Hummingbird Lumbar Pillow
If you have existing back problems or an epic backpacking adventure planned, this little baby from innovative gear company Hummingbird is the bomb. Measuring 7″ x 14″, it weighs just 3.5 ounces, rolls or packs flat, and will keep your lower back happy while camping, or riding a Third World bus sans shock absorbers on a rutted highway with potholes large enough to swallow a Mini Cooper.

4. Simply Being Guided Meditation app
I’m way too ADD to meditate, but this suggestion came to me from my Gadling colleague, and fellow meditation-phobe, McLean Robbins. She loves this app, which runs through a brief series of relaxation exercises. As McLean says, “Perfect for shutting out the world on a terrible plane ride or easing into sleep in an unfamiliar hotel bed.” The app is available for iPhone, iPad, Blackberry, and Android.

5. Maqui berry
Move over, açaí, there’s a new free-radical fighter in town. Chilean maqui berry, which is FDA-approved and contains the highest ORAC (a system of measure for antioxidants) level in the world, has hit the U.S. Only a few companies manufacture it, but I recommend Isla Natura brand (Full disclosure: the company is owned by a friend of mine, which–in addition to maqui’s health benefits–is why I feel comfortable touting this product). Maqui (Aristotelia chilensis) is indigenous to southern Chile and was traditionally used by the Mapuche Indians as a medicinal aid.

Isla Natura’s USDA and EU-certified organic (Fair Trade certification pending) wild fruits are harvested by hand, dried, ground, and sold in eight-ounce packets. Use one tablespoon in smoothies or on top of yogurt or oatmeal as a daily dietary supplement, but also consider it an immune booster for when you’re traveling.

Bonus: you’ll avoid the high sugar content of Emergen-C, and the “licking a dirt floor” flavor of açaí, and Isla Natura provides employment to local indigenous families at its small Chiloe processing plant. Travel-friendly capsules will be available in April; go to the company’s website for information on scientific studies. To order, click here.

[flickr image via viajar24h.com]

Wacky sign of the week – what does this mean?

I’m not entirely sure why, but this sign scares the crap out of me. I’ve never been a big fan of insects, but anything warning me about bugs twice my size is something I’ll pay attention to (even though it could be a fake sign).

I’m guessing the sign is a warning about big mosquitoes in a swamp area, but I’m also guessing that you are far more creative than I am – so, what do you think this sign means?

Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Ten Bugs You Really Want To Avoid

One of the scariest things when you travel is encountering crazy insects in the places you visit. For some reason, I always seem to encounter bugs the size of my hand that look like something out of Aliens and generally pack a pretty nasty bite and/or sting.

Seems I’m not the only one, because the gang over at Environmental Graffiti have put together a list of the 10 most diabolical insects on Earth, with some down right nasty bugs making an appearance. For instance, cockroaches make the list in the number 10 spot. According to the story there are more than 4000 different species of cockroaches, many of which can grow quite large. And lets not forget the ever popular hissing cockroach that make foul noises to go along with their other foul habits.

Mosquitos earn their number 2 ranking by virute of the deadly diseases they have a propensity to spread. The article says that this tiny insect may be responsible for the death of over half the humans that have ever lived thanks to malaria and yellow fever. And that’s just the beginning of the scary mosquito facts.

The other eight bugs are just as nasty and will probably make your skin crawl. But if you like creepy crawly things, you’ll get a kick out of the list.

So, what’s the craziest bug you’ve seen while traveling?