GANSER, GLASS, KESSLERA Survey of Tick-Borne Bacterial Pathogens in Florida

Carrie E. De Jesus, Claudia Ganser, William H. Kessler, Zoe S. White, Chanakya R. Bhosale, Gregory E. Glass, and Samantha M. Wisely

Article first published online: 13 SEPT 2019 Insects

DOI: 10.3390/insects10090297

ABSTRACT: Within the past three decades, new bacterial etiological agents of tick-borne disease have been discovered in the southeastern U.S., and the number of reported tick-borne pathogen infections has increased. In Florida, few systematic studies have been conducted to determine the presence of tick-borne bacterial pathogens. This investigation examined the distribution and presence of tick-borne bacterial pathogens in Florida. Ticks were collected by flagging at 41 field sites, spanning the climatic regions of mainland Florida. DNA was extracted individually from 1608 ticks and screened for Anaplasma, Borrelia, Ehrlichia and Rickettsia using conventional PCR and primers that amplified multiple species for each genus. PCR positive samples were Sanger sequenced. Four species of ticks were collected: Amblyomma americanum, Amblyomma maculatum, Dermacentor variabilis, and Ixodes scapularis. Within these ticks, six bacterial species were identified: Borrelia burgdorferi, Borrelia lonestari, Ehrlichia ewingii, Rickettsia amblyommatis, Rickettsia andeanae, Rickettsia parkeri, and Rickettsia endosymbionts. Pathogenic Borrelia, Ehrlichia, and Rickettsia species were all detected in the North and North-Central Florida counties; however, we found only moderate concordance between the distribution of ticks infected with pathogenic bacteria and human cases of tick-borne diseases in Florida. Given the diversity and numerous bacterial species detected in ticks in Florida, further investigations should be conducted to identify regional hotspots of tick-borne pathogens.

Read the full publication at Insects.

GAINESVILLE – In the battle against vector borne disease, mosquito control using insecticides is an essential tool. But what happens when that tool starts to fail, and how do you know it? Insecticides are regularly used by public health agencies to reduce populations of blood-sucking mosquitoes. Effective control programs are important to public health because, in addition to posing a nuisance, mosquitoes can also spread diseases to humans. Insecticide resistance, where mosquitoes adapt to survive exposure to commonly-used chemicals, has become an increasingly pressing issue for many health agencies, undermining mosquito control efforts. New research by the Quantitative Disease Ecology and Conservation (QDEC) Lab Group at the University of Florida, the Center for Research on Health in Latin America (CISeAL) at Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador (PUCE), the Institute for Global Health and Translational Science at SUNY Upstate Medical University, Escuela Superior Politécnica del Litoral (ESPOL), and the Universidad Técnica de Machala is the first attempt to investigate seasonal and geographic variations of mosquito insecticide resistance in southern coastal Ecuador, a region where mosquito control is key to stopping the spread of serious diseases like Zika and dengue fever. The study was funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The team of researchers used both genetic screening and pesticide assays to evaluate insecticide resistance in mosquitoes collected in urban locations at different seasons. Differences in the resistance status of mosquitoes to the insecticides commonly used by the local health ministry were found both across collection seasons and across the four cities in the study area. Detected resistance to Malathion, deltamethrin, and alpha-cypermethrin was particularly high in the port city of Machala, which has a long history of dengue outbreaks and insecticide use. Information on insecticide resistance status, patterns, and timing will help local public health professionals design sustainable mosquito control programs that will continue to be effective in the fight against disease.

Read Seasonal and geographic variation in insecticide resistance in Aedes aegypti in southern Ecuador, at PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases.

La Resistencia a los Insecticidas Amenaza el Control de las Enfermedades Transmitidas por Mosquitos en Ecuador

GAINESVILLE – En la batalla contra las enfermedades transmitidas por vectores, el uso de insecticidas para el control de mosquito es una herramienta esencial. Pero ¿qué sucede cuando esa herramienta comienza a fallar y cómo lo sabe? Las agencias de salud pública utilizan regularmente los insecticidas para reducir las poblaciones de mosquitos que chupan la sangre. Los programas de control efectivos son importantes para la salud pública porque, además de ser una molestia, los mosquitos también pueden transmitir enfermedades a los humanos. La resistencia hacia los insecticidas, donde los mosquitos se adaptan para sobrevivir a la exposición a sustancias químicas de uso común, se ha convertido en un problema cada vez más urgente para muchas agencias de salud, desfavoreciendo los esfuerzos de control de mosquitos. Una nueva investigación realizada por el Grupo de Laboratorios de Ecología y Conservación de Enfermedades Cuantitativas (QDEC) en la Universidad de Florida, el Centro de Investigación para la Salud en América Latina (CISeAL) en la Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador (PUCE), el Instituto de Salud Global y la Ciencia Traslacional en la Universidad Médica del Estado de SUNY, la Escuela Superior Politécnica del Litoral (ESPOL), y la Universidad Técnica de Machala es el primer intento en investigar las variaciones estacionales y geográficas sobre resistencia a insecticidas en mosquitos en la costa sur de Ecuador, una región donde el control de mosquitos es clave para detener la propagación de enfermedades graves como el Zika y el Dengue. El estudio fue financiado por los Centros para el Control y la Prevención de Enfermedades (CCPEEU). El equipo de investigación usó tanto análisis genético como los ensayos de pesticidas para evaluar la resistencia a insecticidas en los mosquitos recolectados en áreas urbanas, en diferentes estaciones. Diferencias en el estado de resistencia en mosquitos a los insecticidas comúnmente utilizados por el ministerio de salud local, se encontraron tanto en las diferentes temporadas de recolección, como en las cuatro ciudades dentro del área de estudio. La resistencia detectada al malatión, la deltametrina, y la alfa-cipermetrina fue particularmente alta en la ciudad portuaria de Machala, que tiene una larga historia de brotes de dengue y uso de insecticidas. La información sobre el estado de resistencia hacia insecticidas, los patrones y el tiempo ayudará a los profesionales de la salud pública local a diseñar programas sostenibles de control de mosquitos que continuarán siendo eficaces en la lucha contra la enfermedad.

Lee Seasonal and geographic variation in insecticide resistance in Aedes aegypti in southern Ecuador, en PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases.


Media contact: Mike Ryan Simonovich

Image credit: CDC/ Prof. Frank Hadley Collins, Dir., Cntr. for Global Health and Infectious Diseases, Univ. of Notre Dame/James Gathany

GAINESVILLE – Blood sucking insects such as the Yellow fever mosquito, Aedes aegypti, are more than just a nuisance in Ecuador, they also spread diseases such as dengue fever, chikungunya and Zika. A warming world means that public health officials must decide where to direct surveillance and mosquito control efforts not only today, but also decades down the road given dramatic shifts in mosquito habitat that will take place thanks to climate change.

Ecuadorian agencies now have a powerful helping hand: a recent paper in PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases provides detailed maps forecasting where mosquitoes – and diseases – are likely to be in a warmer future.

The new work from the University of Florida’s Quantitative Disease Ecology & Conservation Lab Group (QDEC Lab) and the Emerging Pathogens Institute assesses the current and future geographic distribution of Ae. aegypti throughout Ecuador. The study was led by PhD Candidate Ms. Cat Lippi and is the result of a long-term collaboration with SUNY Upstate Medical University and the Ecuadorian Ministry of Health. Lippi’s committee chair, EPI researcher and QDEC founder Dr. Sadie Ryan, also contributed to the project, as did EPI investigator Dr. Jason Blackburn.

The research team repurposed historic larval mosquito surveillance data collected by the Ministry of Health between 2000 and 2012 in Ecuadorian households to predict where Ae. aegypti may occur in areas that have not yet been surveyed. Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are important because they are a vector for several different mosquito-borne diseases and are able to reproduce in small quantities of standing water, making them common in urban settings. The research team used environmental and climate modeling to analyze how areas currently suitable for the mosquito may shift in the future as a result of climate change.

Maps A and E show mosquito distribution today while maps B-D and F-H show where mosquitoes can be predicted in the future given different climate change scenarios.

“We wanted to show the Ministry of Health in Ecuador where disease-carrying mosquitoes might occur in the future,” Lippi says. By analyzing the environmental and climactic characteristics associated with where mosquitoes occur in Ecuador today, the team extrapolated where mosquitoes may occur in 2050 under a range of climate change scenarios and used the presence of these mosquitoes as a proxy for where disease would occur.

The models show that Ae. aegypti are likely to expand their range into regions of transitional elevation along the Andes mountain range by midcentury. The expanded habitat includes the portion of mountainous area where valley floors give way to a mountain’s lower slopes. The higher reaches of the Andes famed peaks are expected to remain protected pockets that will still be too cool, even with extreme warming, for Ae. aegypti to survive. At the same time, changing climate will reduce the mosquito’s range in the eastern portion of the country’s Amazon.

“When there is a population that has never been exposed to pathogens like dengue or Zika, they don’t have any immunity, and that population will be vastly more susceptible to an acute outbreak,” Lippi says. “There are thousands of Ecuadorians who will be exposed to mosquitoes in the future who have never had to deal with them before.”

The team will share their results with the Ecuadorian Ministry of Health, which will use the data to prepare for the future. Previous work through the team’s collaboration with Ecuador’s Ministry of Health showed that local knowledge and attitudes are significantly associated with the risk of Ae. aegypti mosquitoes in households in Ecuador, although effects on actual dengue fever risk are less clear. Mosquito-borne diseases pose a serious threat to public health throughout Ecuador and Latin America, where dengue alone accounts for an estimated 16 million infections occurring in the Americas each year.

“Our work gives their health department good forewarning of where to focus their preparations to prevent future outbreaks, and this will help them to conserve limited resources,” Lippi says. Preparations may include educational campaigns on using insect repellent, and window and door screens, as well as how to safely store household water in covered containers. The government can also coordinate spraying efforts to reduce mosquito larvae in the environment.

“Of course we expect to see changes in habitat and species’ ranges due to future climate change,” Lippi says. “But what this study addresses is the question of where those changes will occur, and how severe those changes may be, all within the context of disease risk to people.”

Un nuevo estudio de la Universidad de Florida (Estados Unidos) sugiere que los mosquitos que transmiten enfermedades podrían infectar a poblaciones humanas en Los Andes ecuatorianos debido al cambio climático

Comunidades en Latino América tienen el desafío de reducir la exposición a mosquitos que transmiten enfermedades, como el Aedes aegypti. En Ecuador, este mosquito es más que una molestia. El Aedes aegypti trasmite víruses que causan enfermedades de alta consideración para la salud pública incluyendo dengue, chikungunya y Zika. Dónde el Ministerio de Salud Publica (MSP) podría enfocar los esfuerzos de vigilancia y control de estos mosquitos, hoy y en el futuro, tomando en cuenta el cambio climático?

Un nuevo estudio del grupo, Ecología de Enfermedades y Conservación Cuantitativa (QDEC), de la Universidad de Florida, analiza la distribución geográfica del Aedes aegypti a través de todo Ecuador. El proyecto fue dirigido por Cat Lippi, estudiante de PhD de QDEC, y es el resultado de una colaboración a largo plazo con la Universidad del Estado de New York y Universidad Médica de “Upstate” (SUNY UPSTATE) y el MSP del Ecuador. El equipo de investigadores usó datos históricos de vigilancia de mosquitos recolectados por el MSP para predecir lugares donde Aedes aegypti podría estar presente. Áreas que no se ha inspeccionado de una manera activa y áreas donde podría estar presente en el futuro bajo condiciones de cambio climático. Modelos de “nicho ecológico” fueron creados usando información sobre lugares con la presencia actual del moquito y con variables básicos del ambiente. Los modelos fueron desarrollados usando condiciones climatológicas actuales y futuras, hasta el año 2050.

Este estudio muestra que lugares con elevaciones intermedias a lo largo de Los Andes pueden convertirse en zonas mas asequibles para la presencia de Aedes aegypti en el año 2050. Este descubrimiento sugiere que la población que actualmente viven en estas zonas de transición puede correr el riesgo, en el futuro, de ser expuesto a enfermedades transmitidas por mosquitos, como resultado de cambio climático. Los autores reportan que aumentará la población con riesgo de exposición por más de 12,000 personas bajo los escenarios extremos de cambio climático. Al mismo tiempo, los investigadores identificaron áreas que pueden ser menos propicias para los mosquitos, como la cuenca de la Amazonia.

Actualmente, la mayor parte de las personas que viven en Los Andes están protegidos por las enfermedades transmitidos por mosquitos debido a las altas elevaciones, lo que produce un ambiente frio y no apto para los moquitos. En situaciones extremas de cambio climático, los mosquitos pueden invadir nuevas lugares con elevación de 900 metros más alto que los lugares en actuales condiciones climatológicas. “Las personas que vivan en esta zona de expansión de enfermedades pueden ser más susceptibles a futuros brotes de enfermedades debido a varios factores, incluyendo falta de inmunidad debido a exposición previa al patógeno y falta de conocimiento y costumbres asociados con la prevención de mosquitos y costumbres de protección personal, como el uso de repelente,” indica Lippi. Estudios previos en colaboración con el MSP del Ecuador mostraron que el conocimiento y actitudes de las poblaciones locales están asociados con el riesgo de la presencia de Aedes aegypti en hogares en Machala. Se recomienda estudios en estos nuevas áreas de futuro riesgo.

Las enfermedades transmitidas por mosquitos son una amenaza para la salud pública en toda Latinoamérica, donde dengue causa aproximadamente 16 millones de infecciones anualmente. Estudios como éstos enfatizan la importancia de incorporar la ciencia de “Geografía de la salud” dentro de los estándares de la práctica de la educación pública, proveyendo información más precisa a las agencias de salud pública para mejorar el uso de escasos recursos para el de control de estas enfermedades y para desarrollar intervenciones de control vectorial y de educación pública en lugares específicos.

Media contact: Mike Ryan Simonovich

GAINESVILLE, FL – With its turquoise waters and abundant wildlife, Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands have long been a vacation dream of many. Tourist guides highlight playful sea lions and giant tortoises, but they do not talk about the mosquitoes. For the more than 30,000 people who live there, emerging epidemics of mosquito-borne disease such as dengue, Zika, and chikungunya, which causes fever and joint pain, are an ongoing threat.

A new Medical Geography study led by UF medical geographer Dr. Sadie J. Ryan, examined the social ecological factors associated with dengue fever and mosquito presence in the Galapagos Islands. This work by UF Geography’s Quantitative Disease Ecology & Conservation Lab Group, is the first of its kind conducted in the Galapagos, where dengue has been considered a newly emerging disease since cases were first detected in the early 2000’s.

Ryan collaborated with the Biosecurity Agency of the Galapagos and colleagues from the Universidad San Francisco de Quito, the Escuela Superior Politecnica del Litoral, and SUNY Upstate Medical University as well as UF Geography PhD Student Catherine Lippi and Postdoctoral Fellow Dr. Gabriella Hamerlinck. The team conducted household questionnaires and entomological surveys on the two most populated islands — Santa Cruz and San Cristobal. Statistical models were developed to identify the risk factors for the presence of self-reported dengue infection and Aedes aegypti, an invasive mosquito species that transmits dengue and other viral diseases.

Dengue fever is a serious disease throughout Ecuador and Latin America, with an estimated 16 million cases occurring in the Americas annually. Ryan emphasized, “The Galapagos Islands, and other island systems, present a unique challenge for vector control, given the difficulty in surveying and controlling mosquitoes across diverse landscapes separated by the ocean.”

Researchers found that the knowledge and attitudes of study participants were significantly associated with disease risk. They learned that water storage contributes to risk among island residents, but covering those containers reduces it. Because fresh water is scarce, the islands’ inhabitants store water in containers that attract mosquitoes that settle there. The study also found that human movement played an important role in dengue transmission, as people traveling between islands and traveling to the mainland may be exposed to the dengue virus and bring the disease back to their local communities.

“Our findings suggest that public health officials could develop targeted interventions that increase people’s knowledge of dengue transmission while changing their behaviors to prevent exposure to mosquito bites”, says Ryan.

This study has important implications for the formation of new health policies, providing localized information that will help reduce future outbreaks. Senior author, Anna Stewart-Ibarra of Upstate Medical University, says, “We need more research dedicated to understanding the health and well being of tens of thousands of local residents and hundreds of thousands of tourists who visit the Galápagos Islands each year, and how these health outcomes interact with the unique local ecosystems and wildlife populations.”

This is the first study of its kind in the Galapagos, and the first time household level risks of dengue have been rigorously explored off the mainland of Ecuador.

The study was published in the International Journal of Environmental and Public Health in a special issue on mosquito-borne diseases.








Congratulations to Emily Stone, recipient of an Emerging Scholars Award from the University of Florida’s Center for Undergraduate Research!

The Emerging Scholars program supports early undergraduate students who are interested in adding a research experience to their curriculum. The award provides two semesters of support to work on a research project with a UF faculty member.

Emily is working with Dr. Sadie Ryan and the QDEC lab in the Department of Geography to explore the impacts of socioeconomic status on Aedes albopictus size and insecticide resistance. Her project is part of a larger collaboration supported by the CDC Center of Excellence in Vector Borne Diseases. Emily is a sophomore microbiology major with goals of completing a PhD in infectious disease dynamics.

Image courtesy Mr. Abolfazl Mollalo

GIS-Based Data-Driven Techniques for Spatial Analysis of Infectious Diseases at the State, Regional, and National Levels

Speaker: Mr. Abolfazl Mollalo

PhD Candidate, Department of Geography, University of Florida

Thursday, February 14, 2018

2:50-3:50 PM (Period 8)

Turlington Hall Room 3012

University of Florida

All are welcome to attend.

Image courtesy Ms. Anni Yang

Multi-scale Modeling for Infectious Disease Transmissions – Exploring two Indirectly Transmitted Pathogens in Southwestern Montana

Speaker: Ms Anni Yang

PhD Candidate, Department of Geography, University of Florida

Thursday, February 7, 2019

2:50-3:50 PM (Period 8)

Turlington Hall Room 3012

University of Florida

All are welcome to attend.

MS. Stephanie Mundis (center) receives 2018 SEDAAG Best PhD Paper award

Second-year PhD student Stephanie Mundis of the Quantitative Disease Ecology & Conservation Lab, advised by Dr. Sadie Ryan, was recognized for her paper and presentation at the 2018 SouthEastern Division of the American Association of Geographers. Her presentation, “Spatial analysis of pyrethroid resistance genotypes in Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in Florida,” focused on spatial patterns in the genetic determinants of resistance in Aedes aegypti, a vector species that transmits dengue, chikungunya, and Zika viruses.