... conversations with People at the Leading Edgesm

Viruses Little Helper

The mosquitoes are back and they’ve brought dengue/yellow fever and malaria with them. How did this happen? Mosquitoes were supposed to be under control! (Answer: underfunded public health officials were forced to turn their attention to more pressing needs.) And now, we’ve probably lost the battle.

But the war -- against the diseases that mosquitoes and other arthropods carry -- is actually going pretty well. Researchers, including Dr. Barry Beaty at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, are taking a remarkable range of new approaches. They’re looking at the viruses themselves. And they’re also eager to identify vectors (things that carry the viruses, like mosquitoes) that pose undue risks.

Dr. Barry Beaty, whose major research emphasis is the study of arbovirus-vector interactions, is working with arthropod-borne and infectious diseases. He and other researchers are studying both genetic structure and life-cycles of vectors (mosquitoes and other arthropods) which carry life-threatening viruses, including dengue, dengue’s deadly relative, dengue hemorraghic fever (dhf) and shock syndrome, and malaria.

The objective is to figure out is how to stop the bad guys and/or the diseases they carry.

Perhaps unique immunization strategies are the answer. Or a genetic twist, now that the human genome project has opened new windows on life-processes. It’s an exciting time to be a researcher. Always, they hope that basic research will -- downstream -- reveal a new opportunity or pathway or understanding of fundamental processes which will allow us to control disease.

Meanwhile, the research targets multiply.

Malaria is again a world-wide threat. All four virulent serotypes of dengue virus are now in the Americas. (Since there are areas with mosquitoes and no dengue, an international team of researchers is working to identify and target mosquitoes which carry undue risk.) West Nile fever in the Eastern U.S. reminds us that viruses do not respect national boundaries. LaCrosse encephalitis exemplifies how viruses can become deadly to humans as humans continue to encroach on habitat formerly the exclusive domain of other life forms.

There is some pretty good news if one is affluent (affluent = screens and/or air conditioners.) But in today’s throw-away society, no one is exempt. Consider. Used tires are practically universal -- and prime breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

For the output of (underfunded) basic research to be effective, we are all dependent on a second front -- the growing cadres of dedicated (underfunded) public health workers, worldwide. Targeting control efforts is harder to do in societies with limited resources, but the success of both researchers and public health officials -- or lack thereof -- will affect us all.

One more thing. Should you be tempted to think developed nations are immune, consider “airport malaria.” Any questions?

[This Program was recorded January 27, 2000, in Taos, New Mexico, U.S.A.]




Barry Beaty   

    ... is Director of the Arthropod­borne and Infectious Diseases Laboratory and professor of microbiology in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Science at Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado. Building on his University of Wisconsin PhD specialty (epidemiology,) Dr. Beaty’s major research emphasis is the study of arbovirus-vector interactions.


Conversation 1


Dr. Barry Beaty tells about the early days of what became his life’s work -- studying arthropod and mosquito–borne diseases. He remembers how the LaCrosse Virus, which causes deadly encephalitis, played a key role.


Conversation 2

Comparing his particular story to how science progresses, Dr. Beaty completes the saga of discovering how the LaCrosse virus lived through Wisconsin winters. This remarkable discovery enticed him into the further study of arthropods, a study which now continues at the molecular level. He describes how the apitosis regulation (programmed cell death) process works, noting we still do not know how most viral diseases are maintained during the winter. He observes the advantage the scientist who discovered the mosquito vector for LaCrosse virus had (not being captive to the prevailing scientific dogma.) Dr. Beaty explains the world-wide magnitude of the threat from dengue (close kin to yellow fever) and dengue hemorrhagic fever (dhf) and shock syndrome, as the aedes aegypti mosquito makes a huge comeback. He describes the symptoms and history of dengue and dhf.



Conversation 3


Dengue became deadly in Southeast Asia as the area urbanized following World War II, Dr. Beaty notes, describing the disease’s progress. He offers the two theories about how dengue became one of the major pediatric diseases in Southeast Asia. Citing the return to the Americas of dengue and dhf and shock syndrome, Dr. Beaty reminds us of the great medical milestone when scientists realized mosquitoes transmit yellow fever. He describes how today’s throw-away societies invite disease, using tires as his example. He describes the major thrust of his current research program, then explains why vaccines are a problematic approach for dengue and malaria. He pronounces the worldwide explosion of dengue and malaria a disaster.


Conversation 4


Continuing his story of how yellow fever (dengue) probably came to the Americas, Dr. Beaty offers a variety of theories of how Asia escaped. He describes how air travel has (presumably) spread all 4 serotypes of Dengue from Asia to the Americas. He tells of a major international collaborative effort to understand how genetic characteristics of aedes aegypti mosquitoes make them good vectors for dengue. He explains why he believes we have lost the war with mosquitoes. He describes how malaria is again a major health threat, noting “airport malaria” and other diseases, like West Nile virus, which benefit from expanded international travel. He reminds us of pesticides’ mixed record.



Conversation 5


We may well have lost the battle against mosquitoes, but not the war against the diseases they and other arthropods carry, Dr. Beaty assures us. He explains how scientists are working to increase our knowledge of vectors to develop new control strategies, which he describes. Simultaneously, he reports, a global cadre of people are being trained to implement new strategies, build political will and get needed resources to control these vectors and uses yellow fever to show the importance of both. Many vector-borne diseases are socio-economic diseases, he says, clear that no one anywhere is exempt. He addresses the potential impact of his own research, talks about other arthropods and describes how scientists hope to extrapolate from their understanding of two mosquito organs.


Conversation 6


Dr. Beaty shares why he continues to be excited about his work, using as his example the life cycle of diseases like St. Louis encephalitis. He considers possible effects global warming might have in spreading tropical diseases.



Related Links:

Colorado State Univeristy's College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Science
Centers for Disease Control & Prevention

And, here's a little background information on Paula Gordon and Bill Russell, the Program co-hosts.



Dr. C.J. Peters, Chief of Special Pathogens at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC) in Atlanta, GA, introduced us to Dr. Beaty and other renowned virologists while, simultaneously, meeting all his obligations as co-organizer (with Dr. Michael Buckmeier) of a virology conference in Taos, New Mexico. It’s always a pleasure to work with Dr. Peters and we thank him.

The people at the Taos Civic Plaza & Convention Center were unusually courteous and helpful. We are grateful to them all, especially Reuben J. Martinez, Facilities Superintendent, and Debbie Adamson, Sales & Marketing Manager.

The town of Taos, New Mexico is a special place. We thank everyone who helped us.


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