A.M. Costa Rica's
Fifth news page
San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Feb. 17, 2017, Vol. 17, No. 35
Centers for Disease Control Photo
Aedes aegypti mosquito is pictured here.
Malaria vaccine effective
100 percent, scientists say
By the German Center for Infection Research
Researchers of the University of Tübingen and the German Center for Infection Research with the biotech company Sanaria have demonstrated in a clinical trial that a new vaccine for malaria has been up to 100 percent effective.
For the trial, Peter Kremsner and Benjamin Mordmüller of the Institute of Tropical Medicine and the German Center for Infection Research used malaria parasites provided by Sanaria. The vaccine incorporated non-weakened malaria pathogens together with the medication to combat them.
The World Health Organization reports that some 214 million people became infected with malaria in the year 2015 alone.
Malaria parasites are transmitted by the bite of mosquitoes. The Plasmodium falciparum parasite is responsible for most malaria infections and almost all deaths caused by the disease worldwide. Most of the previous vaccines which have been tried involved the use of individual molecules found in the pathogen. However, they were unable to provide sufficient immunity to the disease.
The Tübingen study involved 67 healthy adult test persons, none of whom had previously had malaria. The best immune response was shown in a group of nine test persons who received the highest dose of the vaccine three times at four-week intervals. At the end of the trial, all nine of these individuals had 100 percent protection from the disease.
“That protection was probably caused by specific T-lymphocytes and antibody responses to the parasites in the liver,” Peter Kremsner explained.
The researchers analyzed the bodies’ immune reactions and identified protein patterns which will make it possible to further improve malaria vaccines, Kremsner added.
The researchers injected live malaria parasites into the test subjects, at the same time preventing the development of the disease by adding chloroquine, which has been used to treat malaria for many years. This enabled the researchers to exploit the behavior of the parasites and the properties of chloroquine.
Once the person is infected, the Plasmodium falciparum parasite migrates to the liver to reproduce. During its incubation period there, the human immune system could respond; but at this stage, the pathogen does not make the person sick. On top of that, chloroquine does not take effect in the liver so it is unable to prevent the parasite from reproducing.
Malaria only breaks out when the pathogen leaves the liver, entering the bloodstream and going into the red corpuscles, where it continues to reproduce and spread. As soon as the pathogen enters the bloodstream, however, it can be killed by chloroquine and the disease cannot break out.
In the group of test persons who demonstrated 100 percent protection after receiving a high dose three times, said study leader Benjamin Mordmüller said, the protection was reliably still in place after ten weeks and remained measurable for even longer.
He added that the new vaccine showed no adverse effects on the test persons. The next step is to further test the vaccine’s effectiveness over several years in a clinical study in the African nation of Gabon. Malaria is one of the biggest health threats there.
Malaria is one of the deadliest infectious diseases worldwide. The World Health Organization reports that some 214 million people became infected with malaria in the year 2015 alone. Approximately 438,000 died of the disease. Around 90 percent of those malaria deaths were in Africa.
Nearly three-quarters of those who succumb to the disease are children under five. The search for a vaccine has been going on for more than a century.
Microsoft mosquito trap
to track spread of zika virus
By the Microsoft Corporation press staff
As the hot, humid weather descended on Houston’s Harris County this spring, the county’s mosquito surveillance team geared up for the busiest season in its fight to get ahead of dangerous mosquito-borne illnesses such as zika.
This year, however, the team had a new weapon in its toolkit: A sleek-looking mosquito trap that experts say marks the biggest innovation in trap technology in decades.
The prototype trap, part of Microsoft’s broader Project Premonition research project, is designed to automatically do things entomologists previously had to do manually or not at all.
This new trap, which is being deployed in the Houston area for the first time this month as part of a pilot project, is designed to only collect the type of mosquito an entomologist wants to track, instead of a hodgepodge of mosquitoes, flies, moths and other critters that scientists then need to manually sort through.
The trap also can tell researchers what time each mosquito was trapped, as well as what the temperature, wind and humidity was when the mosquito flew in. It is designed to withstand the rain, wind and other elements that can batter traditional traps and take them out of commission.
Mustapha Debboun, the director of Harris County Public Health’s mosquito control division, expect the traps to provide faster, more accurate information about where they can find the mosquitoes that pose the biggest health risk because they could be spreading diseases such as dengue fever, chikungunya, West Nile virus, St. Louis encephalitis and zika. That, in turn, will allow the team to target the areas of the vast county that need it most, saving time and money.
To gather all this information, the traps are using two small, battery-powered microprocessors, which gather data that can then be wirelessly downloaded and sent to the cloud. They’re also relying on the latest advances in a branch of artificial intelligence called machine learning for insights including the ability to differentiate between the mosquitoes they want to trap and the bugs they don’t.
For researchers who have been relying on decades-old traps to track 21st-century disease outbreaks, the trap is a huge leap forward.
When Ethan Jackson, a Microsoft researcher who is leading Project Premonition, and the rest of the research team launched the project last year, they weren’t planning to immediately start tracking a public health issue like zika.
Instead, they expected to embark on a five-year research effort aimed at helping officials spot the next big public health concern before it hit major population centers.
To do that, the researchers plan to first trap mosquitoes in remote areas outside of big cites. Then, they’ll use the latest advances in molecular biology and machine learning to analyze the contents of those mosquitoes for signs that a new and potentially dangerous disease is starting to appear.
The ability to proactively get a jump on fighting an outbreak like zika before it becomes a major health threat is a huge advantage over the current system. Right now, public health officials are usually reacting to a disease outbreak only once it is so widespread that doctors are already spotting the harmful effects, such as the devastating birth defects currently linked to zika.
The project isn’t aimed at curing these types of diseases. Instead, the goal is to stop people from ever getting them by mitigating their spread in the first place.
The development of that early warning system is still on track. But when the zika virus started spreading, the researchers realized that even at this early stage of the project, their research could help with the more immediate public health threat as well.
The early versions of the mosquito traps that they are deploying in the Houston area will serve two purposes. They will help entomologists there track mosquitoes that could carry zika or other harmful diseases right now, while also giving researchers the data they need to start bringing the promise of Project Premonition to life.
The first step is to train the new mosquito traps to do their job better.
The system is designed to recognize which mosquito it is supposed to catch based on the flap of the mosquito’s wing. But to do that it needs what experts call training data: Lots and lots of examples of mosquitoes and other bugs flying into the traps. That’s what they are hoping to collect in Houston.
That data can then be used to build an algorithm that uses machine learning to help the trap learn to correctly identify the mosquito it should be capturing, and to not react when other types of mosquitoes, or completely unrelated insects, try to fly into the trap.
Since each mosquito flies into its own individual box, the new traps also can record what time it flew in and environmental factors such as wind, temperature and humidity that were present at the time.
That could help scientists understand the specifics of how a virus is spreading, such as what type of mosquito is infecting people and whether those mosquitoes are more likely to feed at night or when temperatures reach a certain point.
Back in the lab, the researchers also can look more closely at each mosquito to figure out what animal it was feeding on and what viruses it is carrying. The researchers are using the mosquitoes they’ll capture in Houston this summer as training data for the system designed to spot potential disease outbreaks.
But instead of figuring out which web pages are about baseball versus football, this system is trying to figure out what viruses these mosquitoes are carrying and whether new or worrisome ones are emerging.
The latest advances in both computer science and molecular biology are making it more practical for researchers to cull through the “soup” of mosquitoes and the blood they fed on to figure out what viruses and microbes might be lurking there.
Study connects air pollution
to premature births in millions
By the University of York press staff
Scientists have published a major study which links outdoor air pollution with 2.7 million preterm births per year.
The study, which was led by a team from The Stockholm Environment Institute at the University of York, found that in 2010, about 2.7 million preterm births globally or 18 percent of all pre-term births were associated with outdoor exposure to fine particulate matter.
There are many risk factors for preterm birth from the mother’s age, to illness, to poverty and other social factors. Recent research has suggested that exposure to air pollution could also be a risk factor.
For the first time, scientists are able to quantify the global impact by combining data about air pollution in different countries with knowledge about how exposure to different levels of air pollution is associated with preterm birth rates.
The study, published in the journal “Environment International,” suggest that addressing major sources of fine particulate matter from diesel vehicles, to agricultural waste-burning could save babies’ lives and improve health outcomes.
The runoff from that pollution is especially harmful to human health, as it can penetrate and lodge deep inside the lungs.
When a baby is born preterm, at less than 37 weeks of gestation, there is an increased risk of death or long-term physical and neurological disabilities.
In 2010, an estimated 14.9 million births were preterm or about four or five percent of the total in some European countries, but up to 15 to 18 percent in some African and South Asian countries.
Chris Malley, a researcher at the institute in York and lead author, said: “This study highlights that air pollution may not just harm people who are breathing the air directly. It may also seriously affect a baby in its mother’s womb.
The study revealed that while many other health impacts of air pollution have been documented, most notably through the “Global Burden of Disease” studies, the focus has been mainly on premature deaths from heart disease and respiratory problems.
A pregnant woman’s exposure can vary greatly depending on where she lives. For instance, in a city in China or India she might inhale more than ten times as much pollution as she would in rural England or France.
The study did not quantify the risk in specific locations, but rather used the average ambient PM2.5 level in each country, and analyzed the results by region.
India alone accounted for about a million of the total 2.7 million global estimate, and China for about another 500,000. Western sub-Saharan Africa and the North Africa or the Middle East regions also had particularly high numbers, with exposures in these regions having a large contribution from desert dust.
The institute is working to support more than 20 developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America to develop plans to reduce emissions leading to particulate air pollution.
Trump solo press conference
was a broad defense of job
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
Donald Trump used his first solo press conference as president Thursday to deliver a broad defense of his turbulent first month in office, denying reports of chaos within the White House and insisting his administration is running like a fine-tuned machine.
The press conference, which lasted over 75 minutes, was at turns combative and comical, with Trump alternately joking with and then lecturing the media gathered in the White House East Room.
Trump touted a long list of what he said were accomplishments, including withdrawing the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, implementing a federal government hiring freeze and eliminating government regulations.
"We have made incredible progress," Trump said. "I don't think there's ever been a president elected who in this short period of time has done what we've done."
But Trump insisted he could have accomplished more were it not for what he termed the mess left by his predecessor, former president Barack Obama. "I inherited a mess. It's a mess.
In what has become a standard part of the president's public appearances, Trump also took aim at the news media, which he accused of downplaying his accomplishments and making up "fake news" in order to damage his administration.
"The press honestly is out of control. The level of dishonesty is out of control," he said.
At one point, Trump played media critic praising Fox & Friends as the most honest morning show. He also downgraded CNN from fake news, his usual label for the news channel, to very fake news.
Not all of Trump's statements during the press conference were factual. At one point, Trump incorrectly claimed his November election victory was the biggest Electoral College win since former President Ronald Reagan, a claim he has made repeatedly in recent days.
When a reporter pointed out that the assertion was inaccurate, Trump replied: "Well, I don't know. I was given that information. I've seen that information around. But it was a very substantial victory, do you agree with that?"
Trump's first month as president has been rocky and unpredictable. On a near-daily basis, reports emerge of sharp internal divisions within the White House, with senior officials leaking information to the media, apparently to gain an advantage.
This week, national security adviser Michael Flynn was ousted after it was revealed that he had misled White House officials about the nature of his conversations with Russian officials during the presidential transition period.
Trump has also suffered a steady stream of legal setbacks related to his executive order temporarily banning immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries and shutting down the refugee program.
But on Thursday, Trump downplayed those setbacks. Trump also vowed to investigate the criminal leaks that led to the ouster of Flynn, even while acknowledging that it was he who requested that Flynn resign.
Flynn's conversations with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. may have violated a federal statute that prohibits private citizens from conducting foreign policy without the permission of the U.S. government.
But Trump said that he didn't see anything wrong with Flynn's communications.
"What was wrong was the way that other people, including yourselves in this room, were given that information, because that was classified information. That's the real problem," he said.
Trump also dismissed news reports suggesting members of his campaign were in touch with Russian officials during the presidential election.
"I just want to tell you, the false reporting by the media, by you people, the false, horrible, fake reporting makes it much harder to make a deal with Russia," he said.
Congressmen told all illegals are fair game for deportation
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
Members of Congress said a government immigration official told them that almost all illegal immigrants are fair game for arrest and deportation.
Acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Thomas Homan met with ten Democratic representatives Thursday on Capitol Hill.
Rep. Joaquin Castro, a Democrat from Texas, said it was hard to leave the meeting and believe the Trump administration is not going to target as many immigrants as possible.
Castro said the only exception was Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients. These are immigrants who came to the United States at a young age and have been protected under a program established by former president Barack Obama.
President Donald Trump issued an executive order in his first week in office that set the stage for broader immigration enforcement.
“Many aliens who illegally enter the United States and those who overstay or otherwise violate the terms of their visas present a significant threat to national security and public safety,” the order says.
Members of Congress from Thursday's meeting said out of the 686 undocumented immigrants arrested during last week's round-up, 120 did not have criminal records.
The immigration authority said during targeted enforcement operations officers frequently encounter additional suspects who may be in violation of federal immigration laws.
Ten Democrats were allowed to attend the meeting with the immigration authority’s acting director, while several others were asked to leave.
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