Diseases photo

Your monthly roundup of infestations, contagions, and controls.

In infectious disease news

Zika virus is all over the news, thanks to a pandemic spreading across South and Central America. Most symptoms are relatively benign, but health officials worry the virus may be linked to rare birth defects and other complications, although the connection is far from certain. For now, mosquito control is the only way to curb the virus, although it isn’t necessarily easy to thwart the suckers. Vaccine R&D is underway but may take years. For more, read Maryn McKenna at her Germination blog; Helen Branswell at Stat; David Quammen at National Geographic; and Julia Belluz at Vox.

Flint, Michigan can’t catch a break. In addition to revelations about lead in the drinking water, the city also had a spike in Legionnaires’ disease.

The World Health Organization declared West Africa Ebola-free earlier this month, but another case then popped up in Sierra Leone.

Kai Kupferschmidt has a piece at Science about a scary, little-known infection from a soil bacterium called Burkholderia pseudomallei, sometimes called the “Vietnamese time bomb.”

And another little-known disease called mycetoma got some much-needed attention. Read Amy Maxmen’s piece at NPR (actually from late December). The WHO recently announced it’s considering adding the “flesh-eating, bone-destroying disease” to the organization’s neglected disease list.

In vaccine news

Brian Resnick has a nuanced piece at Vox about the complications in eradicating polio. It turns out that, as cases dwindle thanks to vaccination programs, the biggest threat of infection actually comes from those same vaccines.

Scientists may be making progress on a universal Ebola vaccine.

And a whooping cough outbreak raises questions about the effectiveness of the pertussis vaccine. (Although these questions aren’t exactly new.)

In agriculture news

The Environmental Protection Agency published work suggesting a neonicotinoid called imidacloprid may be hurting bees. Nathanael Johnson has a good take at Grist.

Our bananas are still under attack from a fungus called Tropical Race 4. Read more from Dan Charles at NPR.

And agricultural giants including DuPont Pioneer are investing in CRISPR technology, which will have applications for pest control. Read more by Katrina Megget at ChemistryWorld/SciAm.

In creepy crawly news

New research shows that we have a lot of six-legged roommates. Check out this infographic at Vox breaking down what’s there, as well as this piece by Ed Yong at the Atlantic. But don’t worry: most of the insects aren’t pests and won’t bother you too much.

Bed bugs are getting even harder to kill: new research shows that the suckers have now developed resistance to neonicotinoids, one of the few insecticides that can be legally sprayed in bedrooms in the U.S. Read more at BBC.

And the ticks that spread Lyme disease are spreading across the U.S. Great. Check out the disturbing trend on this map at Stat.