How does a tick bite make you allergic to red meat? Can you prevent this from happening? One entomologist wants to prepare you with information to protect yourself and the ones you love from ticks.
One of the most important—and unique—aspects of this disease is that the allergy has been linked to the bite of certain hard ticks species. (Ticks are often grouped as hard or soft based on their body type- and no, it has nothing to do with how much time they spend at the gym.) A large majority of patients diagnosed with AGS have a history of tick bites, or these people have elevated antibodies in their bloodstream associated with the alpha-gal sugar following tick bites. Two tick species have been strongly implicated in causing this allergy in the US—both commonly found biting humans. The picture above depicts the most common tick associated with AGS (and one of the most aggressive human-biting ticks in the southeastern US!): the Lone Star tick, Amblyomma americanum.
Currently, scientists believe that the ticks’ saliva contains alpha-gal antigens, which are little molecules that cause our bodies to have a reaction. Thus, after a human is bitten by the tick and develops the reaction, their immune system is ready to combat a future attack. Unfortunately, if this person eats red meat at a later time—which contains alpha-gal—their body might mistake the alpha-gal from the meat with the alpha-gal from the tick bite. The mistaken identity might lead to an allergic reaction, which likely increases in severity the more times this person eats red meat. Additionally, alpha-gal sugar is not only present in red meat but also in certain products or foods made from mammals (examples: some dairy products or gelatin), meaning these products might also trigger the allergy.
While the medical community is understanding how to handle this new allergy in patients, medical entomologists are stressing how important preventing the allergy is in the first place. One of the best prevention methods is preventing tick bites all together and being vigilant about tick bites when exposed. For those people who enjoy being in the great outdoors (of course where all the ticks are), utilizing EPA registered on-skin repellents containing DEET are a great defense. Additionally, clothing containing permethrin can also keep ticks off of you.
If tick habitat is completely unavoidable (for those who backpack, hunt, or even have animals that may bring in ticks), completing a “tick check” as soon as you are able to after leaving the environment is recommended. By checking all of your clothing, shoes, gear, etc. for ticks carefully, you lessen the likelihood of bringing any into your home. Once you are inside, check your entire body for ticks, especially in places where your clothing was tighter on your body (think: back of your knees, between the legs, ankles, armpits, around your waist, etc.). Lastly, if you do find a tick on your body biting you, remove it as soon as possible. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has an excellent removal infographic.
Although not the first human allergy associated with arthropods (think: honeybees, ants, or wasps), AGS is one of the only ones that is (1) caused by the bite (instead of a sting) of an arthropod resulting in (2) an allergy to a food we eat. Because AGS is relatively new to the medical community, there is still a lot we do not know about how the allergy works.
Why are insects living in streams important? How do people restoring streams determine they are successful? One entomologist wants you to know about an easier way to determine the health of a stream and if those fish you are looking for might be there.
By Rich Biemiller, Ph.D.
When people speak about aquatic macroinvertebrates, they are generally referring to immature insects and other small organisms that live in water and can be seen with the naked eye. Macroinvertebrates have long been used to assess water quality and, in particular, stream health. Since then, scientists have developed numeric values to describe and increase the effectiveness of using macroinvertebrates for assessment and monitoring of freshwater environments. The relative smaller size and shorter life cycles of most of these macroinvertebrates allow their communities to respond more quickly to disturbance (i.e., introduction of pollution) than larger, longer lived organisms, such as fish. This ultimately allows scientists to discover water quality issues earlier. Additionally, the effort, cost, and equipment required to sample macroinvertebrates are all significantly lower than those required to sample fish.
The question then becomes: Why do many stream restoration monitoring efforts choose to focus on fish (often trout) while all but ignoring macroinvertebrates to determine success? In my opinion there are two central explanations for this: money and expertise.
Money follows fish, especially game fish, and in particular trout. Many restoration projects are initiated to increase the numbers and range of native, desirable game fish. There is nothing inherently wrong with this. Using fish makes complete sense since, in many cases, because money from sales of fishing licenses or from fishing organizations provide the funding for restoration projects. As a result, monitoring the target fish after the completion of the project is logical. However, ignoring the macroinvertebrate community presents an incomplete picture of stream health and can prevent solving real fish re-establishment problems.
For instance, if a stream has been restored, why have the fish not returned? Macroinvertebrate communities can provide many useful insights to help stream restoration projects solve complicated problems. Diverse, robust, pollution-sensitive macroinvertebrate communities in restored parts of the stream show that fish have a viable food source and clean water- two critical requirements that increase the chance a fish population will successfully establish. Additionally, many macroinvertebrates fly for a portion of their life cycle meaning they can re-inhabit areas that fish may not be able to access. Therefore, a healthy macroinvertebrate community persistently noted in an area where fish populations are low can indicate either a lack of suitable fish habitat (structure or deep pools) or a connectivity barrier between the source fish population and the project site.
The second reason why stream restoration projects ignore macroinvertebrates is that identification of these creatures is hard and takes expertise. Even to an expert, identification of some organisms to the species level can prove extremely difficult. Further, the fact that macroinvertebrates consist of insects and other non-insect organisms mean that more than one expert may be required to identify all sampled organisms to the species level.
Yes, identification of macroinvertebrates to species level is not easy. I can personally attest to this. I tried several times before getting certified in aquatic insect identification at the family level! However, identifying all organisms from a sub-sample to the species level is not always necessary to get a good idea of what is going on in the water. Simply being able to recognize that major groups of insects are missing provides valuable information. For example, a community lacking mayflies, stoneflies, or caddisflies where one would expect to find them would indicate a water quality issue that needs further investigation. Additionally, with the rise of environmental DNA techniques that allow species to be identified from water samples, the need for specialized expertise may become moot if this task can be outsourced with technology and become more affordable in the future.
To be clear, I am not advocating forsaking the monitoring of fish. Rather, I would suggest that a macroinvertebrate component be added to monitoring protocols. This community is vital for the success of fish populations and assessing stream health restoration goals. Low macroinvertebrate species diversity or only pollutant tolerant species can indicate that the area has an issue that has not been addressed, which could limit the success of fish populations. Additionally, sampling macroinvertebrates in monitoring efforts can give insights into issues that could be hidden by focusing solely on fish. So next time you are planning a stream restoration with a monitoring element (which they all should have) consider adding a macroinvertebrate component to your monitoring protocols.
About the author: Dr. Rich Biemiller is an aquatic entomologist and freshwater ecologist for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. He serves as a regional watershed specialist working to restore disturbed streams. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mosquitoes kill more people than any other animal in the world by spreading pathogens through their bites. Similarly, ticks spread pathogens that result in over 300,000 reported cases of human disease in the U.S. each year. Because of this reality, many different organizations perform surveillance, control activities, and research to protect Americans from vectors (animals that spread pathogens to other animals) and vector-borne disease (VBD; the diseases spread by vectors).
Sometimes, the funding to run these organizations comes from the U.S. government. Unfortunately, according to a recent article published in the Journal of Medical Entomology, the U.S. has a history of providing funding reactively to VBD outbreaks, but once the disease becomes a regular occurrence, the funding often dries up. This reactive ebbing and flowing of money leaves the U.S. vulnerable to new, future outbreaks.
To alleviate this vulnerability, the U.S. needs to provide consistent, proactive funding to support the activities required to keep all Americans safe from VBD. Preventing an outbreak requires controlling vectors and identifying cases as soon as possible, which means performing surveillance, education, and research when people are not getting sick. However, the only way to keep a watchful eye is to ensure enough money exists to support the man hours, equipment, and resources necessary to stay vigilant.
The Journal of Medical Entomology publication also outlines how the lack of consistent funding unintentionally creates additional challenges that further complicate mosquito and tick control. Some of these additional challenges may include:
Despite the history of reactive funding, in recent years, the U.S. has gotten better at providing proactive support. For example, in 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) established five Vector-Borne Disease Regional Centers of Excellence with several clear goals designed to better anticipate and protect Americans from the next VBD. Additionally, legislation passed in 2019 mandated the creation of a national strategy to combat VBD. These as well as other programs are steps in the right direction at reducing VBD and hopefully preventing the next outbreak.
Regardless of the progress in recent years, policy makers in the U.S. still need to do more work to ensure sufficient funding exists to support vector control activities. Factors such as climate change, growing urban environments, and increased international travel will expand the range of vectors and potentially introduce new pathogens into the U.S. However, only through proactive funding will America be prepared to tackle the next VBD threat.
Mosquitoes cause more disease and morbidity than any other animal on the planet, and Bill Gates provides an informative article about the world's deadliest animal here. In honor of this day, I created a How to Guide to make felted mosquitoes.
Felted mosquitoes can be great tools used during community engagement because the soft materials and colors make insects more approachable to people who may otherwise be hesitant. Additionally, the enlarged bodies can be used to highlight mosquito anatomy.
For any non-profit, education, public health, government, training use, please feel free to download, use, and share this tool as you like- just keep the Bug Lessons information present in the bottom right hand corner. For any commercial or for-profit use, contact me directly for licensing options.
P.S.- I would love to see any mosquitoes you create, so please don't hesitate to send those pictures my way!
DOWNLOAD HOW TO GUIDE: FELTED MOSQUITO
Do you think you would look at an ant differently if you invited it into your home instead of it invading uninvited?
There are over 12,000 different species of ants in the world, and they all live in social units caring for the health and well-being of the group over the needs of the individual. Unfortunately, a few bad actors may give the group as a whole a bad reputation. A few species are pests, and will invade buildings looking for resources such as moisture, shelter, and food. However, ants are fascinating, diverse creatures, and getting to know them a little better may eliminate some of the fear and anxiety if you encounter one in your home.
Did you know sometimes people invite ants into their homes and buildings? Ant farms are enclosed containers that house ants and hold a substrate (e.g.: soil, sand, gel, etc.) with at least one viewing window. The substrate allows the ants to build structures, and the window lets people watch the ants while they work.
There are several different ways to experience an ant farm. A person can purchase one, build one, or maybe even visit a zoo or university to experience a larger-than-life contained ecosystem! If someone chooses the first two options, they must fill their ant farm with ants! Below are six tips to help aspiring entomologists collect and observe friendly ants in the comfort of their home.
Ant farms can be a learning tool for both children and adults, and watching the ants day to day builds wonder and excitement. By getting to know these little creatures better, people overcome their fear, and are better prepared when encountering them unexpectedly.
Elzinga, R.J. 2004. Fundamentals of Entomology, Sixth Edition. Pearson Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ.
Smith, E.H. & Whitman, R.C. 2007. NPMA Field Guide to Structural Pest, Second Edition. National Pest Management Association, Fairfax, VA.
Eliminating bed bugs can be tough. They are expert hiders, and finding all of them in an account is sometimes impossible. Additionally, they can be very hard to kill, because they are often resistant to conventional insecticides. Because of these challenges, utilizing tools that can find and kill bed bugs is critical for success. In my most recent publication in the Journal of Economic Entomology, Dakotah Todd, Dini Miller, and I designed a field study to evaluate the efficacy of the fumigant sulfuryl fluoride at eliminating all life stages of bed bugs in two extremely challenging scenarios. In one scenario, we hid bed bugs throughout vans including in the stow-n-go seating. In the other scenario, we packed cargo trailers to 85% capacity with common household items and hid bed bug in plastic bags, behind wall sockets, in book cutouts, and more. In all scenarios and replicates, we killed 100% of the bed bug eggs, nymphs, and adults proving that fumigation is an effective tool against bed bugs in these hard situations.
How effective are your training materials?
It is Pesticide Safety Education Month! The Environmental Protection Agency brings awareness to Pesticide Safety Training every February. On their website, they offer tips for everyone, from business owners to pest management professionals to homeowners, to use pesticides responsibly. However, effective and consistent trainings are key to always being successful product stewards.
No matter what industry you work in, trainings can be challenging. As the trainer, creating and delivering materials that are compelling and convey all of the critical information can be overwhelming. As the trainee, sitting through hours of dry information, some of which you have seen before, can feel mind numbing. However, continued education is vital to ensure consistent results while keeping personnel and homeowners safe.
You may consider taking this month as an opportunity to review your training materials and ask yourself, “What can I do to make this more engaging?” Investing resources to create the best training experience as possible helps everyone stay safe and helps you grow your business by building trust with your customers through reliable results.
Can you design your experiments to better match the field?
Generating data in the laboratory to evaluate whether or not a potential pest control or surface disinfection product will work in the field can be challenging. Very easily, a scientist can develop a protocol that generates promising data in the laboratory only to find out that efficacy does not translate in the field. Thus, being able to replicate field conditions accurately in the laboratory is critical to successfully evaluating a product.
Research conducted in Europe wanted to know if the World Health Organization’s arm-in-cage test represented landing rates of wild mosquitoes. To do this, researchers counted the number of times a mosquito landed on a person in three scenarios: in the wild where mosquitoes are known to be abundant, in a room with different densities of mosquitoes, and in an arm-in-cage test with 200 mosquitoes. They found that under these conditions, the arm-in-cage test had 8.5X more mosquito lands compared to mosquito lands from the field.
There are a couple of implications from these results. One, the research indicates that a different test than the arm-in-cage may be more appropriate to mimic conditions encountered in the field. Two, it also suggests that arm-in-cage tests could be optimized to more closely replicate field conditions and ultimately use less resources during the development of the product.
Integrated pest management (IPM) is a science based form of pest control that utilizes surveillance, prevention, multiple control techniques and evaluation of the plan to sustainably manage pests. My recent publication reviews some urban entomology research published in 2019 and how those studies could contribute to IPM plans in urban environments.
Effectively breaking the cycle of vector-borne disease transmission includes managing the vector and eliminating the virus from reservoirs. New research suggests a drug already approved for human use may eliminate the chikungunya and yellow fever viruses in humans.
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