Over-Regulation Is Making Us More Vulnerable to Disease

Regulatory precaution, not rising temperatures, is the main driver for the increase in vector-borne disease.



"Climate change needs to be put out there as a major driver of vector-borne disease in the U.S.," Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Texas' Baylor College of Medicine, told Gizmodo. This was in response to a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that reports of vector-borne diseases have tripled since 2004. These infectious illnesses include Lyme disease that is spread by ticks, and West Nile and Zika viruses spread by mosquitoes. The CDC report is indeed alarming, but not chiefly because climate change is exacerbating certain infectious maladies. Instead, the increase in vector-borne illnesses identified by the CDC says much more about how the proliferation of regulatory barriers is slowing the development and deployment of modern technologies to prevent the spread of disease.

While it is likely that warmer temperatures do create more favorable conditions for some disease-carrying species of mosquitoes and ticks to proliferate, preventing climate change is not the way humanity will eventually control these diseases. Vector control and vaccines are.

Consider the cases of malaria and yellow fever, both of which were mosquito-borne illnesses that afflicted much of the United States until the 20th century. They were eliminated by draining swamps, dusting breeding areas with insecticides like DDT, and installing more window screens in houses. Intensive mosquito control efforts were actually able to eliminate Zika virus in the Miami, Florida, area.

New vector control methods include genetic changes that prevent mosquitoes and ticks from harboring disease microbes or by eliminating the blood-sucking parasites themselves. For example, researchers have suggested that they could break the chain of Lyme disease infection by engineering a gene drive that would prevent mice upon which Lyme disease-carrying ticks feed from becoming infected with the microbe. A gene drive works by making sure that both copies of a targeted natural gene are replaced with the engineered version, so that a desired trait will spread rapidly through a whole population of sexually reproducing organisms.

Gene drives also make it possible to essentially eliminate disease-carrying species by, for example, making sure that the vast majority of their progeny are male. This would be a handy way to kill off the introduced Aedes Aegypti mosquito that spreads Zika and West Nile virus in the U.S. In the meantime, while researchers are still perfecting gene drives and waiting for regulatory approval, the Kentucky-based MosquitoMate company is releasing male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes infected with Wolbachia bacteria to mate with wild female mosquitoes. Wolbachia-infected eggs do not hatch. Using a different approach, the British company Oxitec has genetically engineered Friendly™ GMO mosquitoes that can be deployed to spread a gene that is lethal to the larva of the disease-carrying pests. In Brazil, the release of Oxitec's mosquitoes reduced the transmission of dengue fever by more than 90 percent.

Preventing disease by controlling pests that carry infectious microbes out in the wild is good, but so too is protecting ourselves by revving up our individual immune systems. It is scandalous that there are effective veterinary vaccines to prevent Lyme disease in dogs and West Nile virus in horses while human vaccines to prevent these maladies languish. Unable to mobilize our immune systems to defend against these diseases by means of modern vaccines, we are advised to avoid walking in fields and woods, to wear long sleeve shirts and pants in the summer and to slather ourselves with noxious insect repellants.

So why are there no human vaccines for the diseases identified in the CDC report? In the case of Lyme disease there was once a human vaccine. However, its manufacturer withdrew it from the market in 2003 as a result of a class action lawsuit filed against it by some anti-vaccine fearmongers. More generally, vaccine development lags in part because the onerous process for creating and obtaining regulatory approval of new vaccines has increased to between five to 18 years. In addition, pharmaceutical companies that have rushed to develop vaccines in response to emergencies like the West African Ebola and the Brazilian Zika outbreaks have learned that they cannot recover their costs as vaccine demand dissipated along with the crises.

A new techology, however, in which researchers create vaccines by synthesizing DNA and RNA from the genetic sequences of disease-causing bacteria and viruses offers the prospect of dramatically shortening development time and cutting costs. Once injected, these genetic sequences provoke cells to make microbial proteins that then instigate an immune response in the vaccinated person. Inovio Pharmaceutical's synthetic DNA Zika vaccine took just seven months from the time it was first designed until the start of the clinical trial. It was 100 percent effective in its phase I trial.

Rising temperatures do not cause infectious disease, microbes do. Excessive regulatory precaution is the main driver for the rise in vector-borne illnesses in this country.

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  1. Whoever came up with the subtitle “Regulatory precaution, not rising temperatures, is the main driver for the increase in vector-borne disease” needs a logic lesson. That’s like saying that the lack of foreign aid from the United States, not socialism, is the main driver for the increase in poverty in Venezuela.

    1. F: Isn’t it more like saying: Socialism, not lack of U.S. foreign aid, the the main driver of increase in poverty in Venezuela.

      1. Well, was the tripling an effect of the regulation? Or was the tripling an effect of the warming, and regulation merely a barrier to a response to that effect?

        Which correlates with the increase better: average annual temperatures, or implementation of relevant regulatory measures?

      2. It’s not in the least like your example, Ron. The article refers to an increase in disease. Versus what? Versus the previous level of disease. Given the previous level of vector-borne disease, the exogenous factor that caused the increase was rising temperatures. Regulatory precaution was already part of the previous state.

  2. Socialists lie; people die. It keeps happening like a bad joke. But remember, libertarians are the heartless jerks.

    You’d think maybe they’re just a bunch of Malthusians and this is a feature, not a bug. But that assumes too much of their critical thinking capacity.

  3. Climate change needs to be put out there as a major driver of vector-borne disease in the U.S.,” Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Texas’ Baylor College of Medicine, told Gizmodo.

    Global warming: the new Miasma Theory of disease propagation.

  4. I like how DDT is mentioned, since it was the vehicle that basically annihilated mosquito borne diseases until it was guesstimated that maybe some bird shells somewhere might be thinner and it was decided that the possibility of maybe thinner egg shells was too big of a risk to continue saving hundreds of thousands of people’s lives. Notably, DDT is still used oversea’s in at least a few places and, shockingly, they still have birds.

    That these diseases have not only returned, but resurged should be a surprise to precisely no one since they were formerly entirely eradicated in the United States. When you stop the purging, you can expect some resurgence. I won’t pretend that’s the direct reason since it’s been quite some time since we used DDT, but the fact remains that solutions are known but human life is simply less valuable to the environmental types and they generally won the debate on disease.

    I remain disappointed that the EPA wasn’t mentioned once in the article, since notably they’re a U.S. government agency that is in charge of making sure more people die. The CDC is massively flawed, and so is the FDA, but the EPA puts a lesser value on human life than it places on mosquito’s.

    1. The next time some idiot tells you rising temps are the cause of increased tropical diseases like malaria, remind them that Archangel, Russia had malaria outbreaks in the 1920s.

    2. Mosquitoes can develop resistance to DDT and other insecticides.

  5. I have no data but I’d wager water restricted toilets, showers,and “energy efficient” washers and dishwashers contribute to the spread of disease.

  6. Anyone think illegal immigrants have had all their shots?

  7. The influence of the climate on human health has long been proven. At high air temperatures, peripheral vessels expand, arterial pressure decreases, blood redistribution and metabolic suppression are in the body. At low temperature, peripheral vessels decrease, arterial pressure rises, pulse increases, and metabolism and blood flow increase. With fluctuations in temperature, changes occur in the human nervous system. My friend from moved to another country, and there was a more humid climate, so he was ill every month, for half a year !!

  8. Oxitec scandal in Cayman Islands. It’s more like 60% Oxitec rep now states. Google oxitec news

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