Author Interviews, Infections, JAMA / 01.05.2019 Interview with: Nicholas B. DeFelice, PhD Department of Environmental Medicine & Public Health Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai New York, New York What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?  Response: Effective allocation of public health resources during an outbreak is complicated and often reactive. Thus, it is important that we develop quantitative tools that can accurately and rapidly forecast the progression of an outbreak and provide decision support. Recently, several advancements have been made in the realm of infectious disease forecasting: it is a field that is growing in exciting directions. However, for these forecasting tools to work in real time, we must understand how the forecasting apparatus and observational network work in real time to ensure they are sufficient to support accurate operational predictions. We previously showed that accurate and reliable forecasts of West Nile virus outbreaks can be made using surveillance data and a mathematical model representing the interactions between birds, mosquitoes and risk of human spillover. This model system was able to retrospectively forecast mosquito infection rates prior to the week of peak mosquito infection, and to forecast accurately the seasonal total number of human West Nile virus cases prior to when the majority of cases were reported. For this study, we were interested in the data flow process and the question of whether appropriate infrastructure is in place to support real time forecasting. If this forecast system were made operational in real time, public health officials would have an evidence-based decision-support tool to help 1) actively target control of infected mosquito populations (i.e., larviciding and adulticiding), 2) alert the public to future periods of elevated West Nile virus spillover transmission risk, and 3) identify when to intensify blood donor screening. (more…)
Author Interviews, Infections, JAMA / 05.09.2017 Interview with: Cinnamon S. Bloss, Ph.D. Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry Department of Family Medicine and Public Health Division of Health Policy University of California, San Diego What is the background for this study? Response: In 2016, the FDA invited public comments on a draft environmental assessment for a proposed field trial of a genetically modified (GM) mosquito designed to suppress wild-type Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. The preliminary finding from the environmental assessment indicated the trial would be unlikely to adversely affect the environment in Key Haven, Florida, the proposed trial site. We assessed public response to this trial based on the content of public comments submitted to the FDA by requesting comment transcripts through the Freedom of Information Act. (more…)
Author Interviews, Environmental Risks, Infections / 26.08.2016 Interview with: Lin Op De Beeck, PhD student Laboratory of Aquatic Ecology, Evolution and Conservation University of Leuven Leuven, Belgium What is the background for this study? Response: Mosquitoes transmit quite a few deadly diseases, including West Nile Virus. Around the world, therefore, the fight against these insects is high on the agenda. Existing strategies for mosquito control often involve the use of chemical pesticides that harm the environment. These pesticides are increasingly less effective as well, as insects can become resistant to existing products relatively quickly. Biopesticides are a possible alternative. The most commonly used biological pesticide is the Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (Bti) bacteria. Unfortunately, mosquitoes are already developing resistance to this pesticide as well. This means we have to keep increasing the dose of Bti to kill mosquitoes, so that this biological substance, too, is beginning to harm the environment. Therefore we set out to find a new strategy in the fight against mosquitoes. We already knew that chemical substances emitted by the backswimmer – a natural enemy of mosquito larvae in the water – trigger a stress response in mosquitoes. This stress response, in turn, suppresses the mosquito’s immune system. What makes the use of these predator cues even more interesting for mosquito control is that scientists recently found a way to produce a synthetic version of these chemical substances. We discovered that this synthetic version triggers a stress response in the mosquitoes and impairs their immune system, just like the natural predator cues. This gave us the idea to combine these synthetic predator cues with the biological pesticide Bti. (more…)
Author Interviews, Genetic Research, PLoS / 02.05.2015

G. Mandela Fernández-Grandon PhDNatural Resources Institute,University of Greenwich,Chatham, United Interview with: G. Mandela Fernández-Grandon PhD Natural Resources Institute, University of Greenwich, Chatham, United Kingdom Medical Research: What is the background for this study? Response: People often wonder why, when they are out with their friends or family, one person seems to get ravaged by mosquitoes but others come away relatively bite free. Mosquito bites can be a nuisance to many of us but they are no trivial matter. Mosquitoes are one of the most serious threats to public health through the transmission of diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever, chikungunya and others. We knew that mosquitoes rely on odour to find their hosts but until now the link between our body odour and genes had only been shown using human sniffers1. In a strictly controlled laboratory environment, we were able to present the odours of individuals in identical and non-identical twin pairs to mosquitoes allowing them following the odour stream of whichever they found to be more attractive. Medical Research: What are the main findings? Response: Mosquitoes are equally attracted to identical twins in a pair but with non-identical twins they display a preference for one individual. The ability of mosquitoes to distinguish non-identical twins but not identical twins suggests a genetic basis for our odour profile, a genetic difference which plays a role in whether we get bitten more or less than others. (more…)