US and Mexico must work to prevent future outbreaks of mosquito-transmitted diseases

December 17, 2015

HOUSTON - (Dec. 17, 2015) - Despite the increasing risks of mosquito-transmitted epidemics in the United States and Mexico, policymakers in both countries have made little effort to prevent future outbreaks, according to a new policy brief by tropical-disease and science policy experts at Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy.

The number of mosquito-transmitted epidemics in the U.S. and Mexico is predicted to increase as the mosquito populations carrying so-called arthropod-borne viruses (arboviruses) move northward due to climate change and general migration of flies and infected individuals.

The paper, "Mosquito-Transmitted Epidemics: Dengue, Chikungunya and West Nile in the United States and Mexico," provides a range of recommendations to address this developing public health issue. The paper was co-authored by Kirstin Matthews, fellow in science and technology policy, and Jennifer Herricks, postdoctoral fellow in disease and poverty.

The West Nile, dengue and chikungunya diseases are all caused by arboviruses transmitted primarily via mosquitos. In total, the transmissions result in more than 100,000 annual infections in the U.S. and Mexico. The diseases are not always associated with poverty and rural areas. West Nile virus outbreaks in the U.S. have been found in urban as well as suburban settings.

"Viruses and mosquitos do not acknowledge national boundaries, crossing from the United States to Mexico and back without regard to man-made or natural borders," the authors wrote. "Effective control of arboviruses requires both vector-control polices as well as the development of effective vaccines to protect populations. To combat West Nile, dengue and chikungunya in the United States and Mexico, governments need to coordinate and collaborate to increase public awareness about risks and preventive measures as well as improve disease surveillance."

Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) works with the Mexican government through its Puerto Rico-based Dengue Branch and its U.S.-Mexico Unit, the authors said. These CDC divisions work with partners in Mexico, including the Mexican Secretariat of Health, to investigate infectious disease outbreaks and train public-health workers on activities related to dengue surveillance and diagnosis. "In addition to these efforts, both countries should devote additional resources toward vaccine development to prevent disease outbreaks in the future and protect public health," Matthews and Herricks wrote.

It may not be cost-effective to implement mass preventive measures such as vaccinations and mosquito spraying, the authors said. Instead, targeted vaccination programs to communities in the U.S. and Mexico with past, current or increased risk of future outbreaks would be more effective, they said. However, the low incidence and sporadic nature of outbreaks in the U.S., especially for chikungunya, make finding an appropriate population to test vaccine efficacy difficult. "But these challenges are not unique to arbovirus vaccines, as similar discussions regarding adequate and appropriate designs of clinical trials have been ongoing, most recently related to the testing of experimental Ebola treatments and vaccines," they wrote.

In addition, vector-control measures could inadvertently lead to increased infection rates by creating insecticide-resistant mosquito populations, the authors cautioned. "Therefore, the best strategies would include active surveillance with local campaigns for vector control and, when available, vaccinations of at-risk populations once the viruses are detected in human, animal or mosquito populations," they wrote.

Mexico has taken the first step in ensuring successful vaccine introduction by convening a Mexican Dengue Expert Group, which consists of public health and public policy experts from the Mexican Federal Ministry of Health in partnership with the Carlos Slim Foundation. This group analyzed an array of issues, including disease tracking systems, economics, regulatory issues, communications and immunization systems. As a result, a series of recommendations was developed and distributed to aid Mexico in the early adoption of a dengue vaccine. "The United States should take a similar approach in preparing to introduce new technologies to address emerging diseases such as arboviruses," Matthews and Herricks wrote.
-end-
To interview Matthews or Herricks, contact Jeff Falk, associate director of national media relations at Rice, at jfalk@rice.edu or 713-348-6775.

Follow the Baker Institute via Twitter @BakerInstitute and @BakerCHB.

Follow Rice News and Media Relations via Twitter @RiceUNews.

Related materials:

Policy brief: http://bakerinstitute.org/media/files/files/57ff5f64/BI-Brief-121615-Mosquito.pdf.

Herricks biography: http://bakerinstitute.org/experts/jennifer-r-herricks.

Matthews biography: http://bakerinstitute.org/experts/kirstin-rw-matthews.

Photo credit: thinkstockphotos.com/Rice University.

Rice University

Related Climate Change Articles from Brightsurf:

Are climate scientists being too cautious when linking extreme weather to climate change?
Climate science has focused on avoiding false alarms when linking extreme events to climate change.

Mysterious climate change
New research findings underline the crucial role that sea ice throughout the Southern Ocean played for atmospheric CO2 in times of rapid climate change in the past.

Mapping the path of climate change
Predicting a major transition, such as climate change, is extremely difficult, but the probabilistic framework developed by the authors is the first step in identifying the path between a shift in two environmental states.

Small change for climate change: Time to increase research funding to save the world
A new study shows that there is a huge disproportion in the level of funding for social science research into the greatest challenge in combating global warming -- how to get individuals and societies to overcome ingrained human habits to make the changes necessary to mitigate climate change.

Sub-national 'climate clubs' could offer key to combating climate change
'Climate clubs' offering membership for sub-national states, in addition to just countries, could speed up progress towards a globally harmonized climate change policy, which in turn offers a way to achieve stronger climate policies in all countries.

Review of Chinese atmospheric science research over the past 70 years: Climate and climate change
Over the past 70 years since the foundation of the People's Republic of China, Chinese scientists have made great contributions to various fields in the research of atmospheric sciences, which attracted worldwide attention.

A CERN for climate change
In a Perspective article appearing in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Tim Palmer (Oxford University), and Bjorn Stevens (Max Planck Society), critically reflect on the present state of Earth system modelling.

Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).

Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.

Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.

Read More: Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.