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Close encounters: How we're rubbing up against pathogen-packing pests

mosquito crossingUh, why do I hate mosquitoes? Let me count the ways: "Mosquitoes don’t pollinate anything. They don’t crowd out even more obnoxious competitors. Their only known utility is as food for other animal species about which the best that can be said is that they eat mosquitoes. Mosquitoes stink... But each species of mosquito stinks in its own way."

That's what I wrote in "Close encounters:  How we're crossing paths with pathogen-bearing pests," my article in the latest issue of Stanford Medicine, which is all about the intersection of our environment and our health.

But my article wasn't as much about my deep-seated hatred for those odious, buzzing winged leeches as it was about this:

Human activities are modifying large areas of the Earth, causing formerly cryptic pathogens to seemingly pop up out of nowhere... New diseases have been emerging from swamps, forests and riversides at a rate of about one a year over the past four decades... We have no genetically based resistance to these new diseases. Meanwhile, long-dormant epidemics have been awakening from their slumber, and some of those aren’t exactly a walk in the park, either.

Fortunately we humans, or at least selected combinations of us - in this case Stanford environmental scientist Eric Lambin, PhD; field biologist Rodolfo Dirzo, PhD; and public-health expert Michele Barry, MD, -  are capable of combining high-level technology, global epidemiological wizardry and good old house-to-house shoe leather to find out about the often unpredicted impact the changes we make in our use of land visit on the ecosystems that envelope us, figure out what can or should be done about it.... and then get out there and actually do something about it. (For more details, read my full article.)

Previously: Factoring in the environment: A report from Stanford Medicine magazine, Closing the net on malaria and Ethics for medical students and researchers overseas: A talk by Michele Barry
Photo by cayobo

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