Sunday, December 30, 2012

New Study Explores Relationship Between Biodiversity, Vector-borne Diseases and Economics

Aedes aegypti mosquito (one
of the mosquitoes that carries
the dengue virus;
Here is an interesting article by Bonds and colleagues in PLOS Biology. Via creative statistical modeling techniques, these authors examined the relationship between the 'latitudinal gradient in income' (the fact that there are more poor people living in the tropics) and vector-borne and parasitic diseases (diseases like malaria that are carried by mosquitoes).

The authors found that vector-borne diseases (VBDs) have significantly affected economic development, and that VBDs are affected by underlying ecologic conditions, especially biodiversity. Interestingly, their model predicts that the burden of VBDs will rise (and local economies will suffer) if biodiversity falls.

Dengue risk map (for past 3 months); tropical areas are
disproportionately affected by many tropical infections;
An example of a VBD is dengue, a viral disease carried by mosquitoes (the disease 'vectors'). Both the dengue virus and its mosquito vectors are influenced by local ecosystems. One example of how influencing an ecosystem can affect a VBD is the release of genetically altered mosquitoes into an area to help control the spread of dengue disease. This practice has been used in multiple locations to control dengue spread via limiting the local mosquito population's ability to reproduce.

An example of a VBD that has potentially emerged due to relatively poor biodiversity is Lyme disease; this is a bacterial infection carried by ticks; there were over 24,000 cases in the US in 2011.

The authors note that diverse, well-functioning ecosystems may have a positive effect on the health of a given population via decreasing the burden of vector-borne diseases. This, in turn, will positively affect a given area's economy. This research is intriguing and more research into the relationship between the burden of VBDs and ecology is warranted.

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