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Spread by trade and climate, bugs butcher America’s forests

In a towering forest of centuries-old eastern hemlocks, it’s easy to miss one of the tree’s nemeses. No larger than a speck of pepper, the Hemlock woolly adelgid spends its life on the underside of needles sucking sap, eventually killing the tree.

The bug is one in an expanding army of insects draining the life out of forests from New England to the West Coast.

Aided by global trade, a warming climate and drought-weakened trees, the invaders have become one of the greatest threats to biodiversity in the United States.

Scientists say they already are driving some tree species toward extinction and are causing billions of dollars a year in damage — and the situation is expected to worsen.

“They are one of the few things that can actually eliminate a forest tree species in pretty short order — within years,” said Harvard University ecologist David Orwig as he walked past dead hemlocks scattered across the university’s 5.8-square-mile research forest in Petersham, Massachusetts.

This scourge is projected to put 63 percent of the country’s forest at risk through 2027 and carries a cost of several billion dollars annually in dead tree removal, declining property values and timber industry losses, according to a peer-reviewed study this year in Ecological Applications.

That examination, by more than a dozen experts, found that hundreds of pests have invaded the nation’s forests, and that the emerald ash borer alone has the potential to cause $12.7 billion in damage by 2020.

Insect pests, some native and others from as far away as Asia, can undermine forest ecosystems. For example, scientists say, several species of hemlock and almost 20 species of ash could nearly go extinct in the coming decades. Such destruction would do away with a critical sponge to capture greenhouse gas emissions, shelter for birds and insects and food sources for bears and other animals. Dead forests also can increase the danger of catastrophic wildfires.

Today’s connected world enables foreign invaders to cross oceans in packing materials or on garden plants, and then reach American forests. Once here, they have rapidly expanded their ranges.

While all 50 states have been attacked by pests, experts say forests in the Northeast, California, Colorado and parts of the Midwest, North Carolina and Florida are especially at risk. Forests in some states, like New York, are close to major trade routes, while others, like in Florida, house trees especially susceptible to pests. Others, like New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Maine, are experiencing record warming.

“The primary driver of the invasive pest problem is globalization, which includes increased trade and travel,” Andrew Liebhold, a Forest Service research entomologist in West Virginia. “But there are cases where climate change can play an important role. As climates warm, species are able to survive and thrive in more northerly areas.”

The emerald ash borer, first found in 2002 in Michigan, is now in 30 states and has killed hundreds of millions of ash trees. The gypsy moth, discovered in 1869 in Boston, is now found in 20 states and has reached the northern Great Lakes, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Native bark beetles have taken advantage of warming conditions and a long western drought to rapidly range from Mexico into Canada. An outbreak in Colorado spread across 3.4 million acres of forest from 1996 to 2013, according to the Forest Service, and in California 100 million-plus trees have died in the Sierra Nevada since 2010.

Though small, bugs can easily overwhelm big trees with sheer numbers.

“They drain the resin that otherwise defends the tree,” said Matt Ayres, a Dartmouth College ecologist who worked on the Ecological Applications study. “Then, the tree is toast.”

Forest pests in the era of climate change are especially concerning for timberland owners, said Jasen Stock, executive director of the New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association.

“We’re dealing with pests we’ve never been around before, never had to manage around before,” Stock said. “It’s something we’re going to be dealing with forever.”

Urban forests, too, are at risk from outbreaks. In Worcester, Massachusetts, a city of about 180,000, an Asian longhorned beetle infestation in 2008 resulted in the removal of 31,000 trees.

“You would leave for work with a tree-lined street, and you come back and there was not a tree in sight,” recalled Ruth Seward, executive director of the nonprofit Worchester Tree Initiative. Most trees have since been replaced.

Though trees can die off quickly, the impact of pests on a forest ecosystem can take decades to play out. Dead hemlocks, for example, are giving way to black birch and other hardwoods. Gone are favorite nesting spots for two types of warblers, as well as the bark that red squirrels love to eat, Harvard’s Orwig said. The birds won’t die off, he said, but their ranges will be restricted.

“It’s a great example of how one species can make a difference in the forest,” Orwig said.

As pests proliferate, scientists seek to contain them.

Among the methods are bio controls, in which bugs that feed upon pests in their native lands are introduced here. Of the 30 states with emerald ash borer outbreaks, the USDA says 24 have released wasp species to combat them. Some scientists worry about introducing another pest; others complain they aren’t effective because they can’t eat enough of the fast-breeding pests to make a difference.

“With all bio controls, the hope is to create balance — balance between predator and prey,” said Ken Gooch, forest health program director for the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation.

Genetic modifications also offer promise.

On a research farm in Syracuse, New York, are rows of 10-foot chestnut trees tweaked with a wheat gene to make them resistant to chestnut blight, a fungus that came from Japan more than a century ago and killed millions of trees. Genetic engineering could likewise be applied to fight insects, said William Powell, a State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry professor directing the chestnut research.

An alternative strategy, also a slow one, is to plant trees 50 or 100 miles away from their normal range so they can escape pests, or adapt to a more favorable climate, said Steven Strauss, a professor of forest biotechnology at Oregon State University.

“Mother Nature knows best,” he said. “It’s assisted migration.”

To stop the next pest from entering the country, researchers like Gary M. Lovett, of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in New York, propose measures such as switching from solid wood shipping material that can harbor insects and restricting shrub and tree imports.

Nonetheless, Lovett said new pests are inevitable. “We have this burgeoning global trade,” he said, “so we will get a lot more of these.”

 

Whittle reported from Portland, Maine. Associated Press writer Michael Hill in Syracuse, New York, contributed to this report.

Chris Pratt: from ‘monkeyboy’ to hunky action hero

Pre-gym membership, Chris Pratt was the lovable schlub, a clumpy slacker best known for his likeably rotund turn as Parks and Rec’s Andy Dwyer, not to mention slovenly support on The OC and Mormon-tinged drama, Everwood.

Post-gym membership, he’s a granite jawed, muscle-bound sex god with a killer grin and leading roles in franchises like Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World. There’s even talk of a Knight Rider reboot. Or even taking over the role of Indiana Jones!

“It’s the sad reality of realizing, and I’ve always tried to fight against this, your physical appearance plays a great deal in the roles you get,” he explains over the phone from his L.A. base.

Raised in timbered Washington State, Chris’ success is the stuff of Tinseltown scripters. At 19, while working at a Bubba Gump in Maui and living in a tent between parked cars, the young actor was offered a small part in Rae Dawn Chong’s Cursed Part 3, a horror comedy spoof. He went on to enjoy moderate small screen triumph in Everwood and The OC and landed supporting film roles in Wanted and Take Me Home Tonight, where he met wife Anna Faris.

He then turned his attention to trying to play the leading man, auditioning unsuccessfully for Star Trek and Avatar before returning to the small screen again in Parks and Rec. 

However, it was Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty that changed everything — in particular, one hulking, tighty-whitey-sporting selfie that caught the gaze of Marvel Studios producers looking for a show-stopping Star Lord for Guardians of the Galaxy. A freshly bulked-up Pratt won the part and charmed audiences around the globe to a fearsome tally of just under $750 million at the box office. A movie star was born.

Living in LA with Faris and their 2-year-old Jack, he’s now is taking his newstatus to even higher levels in Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World, the long awaited follow-up to Spielberg’s 1994 prehistoric masterpiece Jurassic Park.

Alongside a cast including Bryce Dallas Howard, Judy Greer and Jake Johnson, World works off the basis that John Hammond’s dinosaur park is 20 years up and running — and facing patron fatigue. New thrills need to be introduced.

Naturally chaos ensues.

Promoting the new release, the Jurassic “superfan” talks of his excitement for the blockbuster, his astonishing career surge, life at the Faris/Pratt household, the origin behind his nickname, “Monkeyboy,” and why his body is his fortune.

Jurassic Park was one of the defining films of my childhood — and every othermember of my generation — so it’s safe to say this is one movie that many are looking forward to. Dude, I was the exact same. Jurassic Park is one of those films that feels like a milestone. Like it’s marked your journey into manhood. It’s one of the most influential movies in my life. I was a huge fan. And it’s going to be so good. The director’s a giant fan and I’m precious of Jurassic Park so I didn’t want this f**ked up.

So to be a part of it, the lead … I know, it’s weird. Now I don’t just feel like a fan of the franchise. I feel like a peer of the artistic creators, which is really strange and surreal to think of.

How did you even land such an insanely contested role? Bradley Cooper was up for this, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Eddie Redmayne, Aaron Paul …

All those guys? God, I didn’t even know that. Well let me just pat my back here. (laughs) 

I mean, I got the call that Colin wanted to sit down with me and you know, we just started getting real giddy about the idea. Really excited. And the longer we talked and the longer we sat there, I thought, “Holy shit, I actually think I could get this! They want you to do this movie.” And Colin felt like the right guy for it. As I said, Jurassic Park was so special to me, I wanted it done right. And he’s got a great vision for the movie.

Were you worried by the poor quality of the previous film? The last one wasn’t great. It was rushed, contrived a little bit. Kinda like, “We need to get Sam Neill back to the island. How? I dunno, just get him back to the island.”

Tell me about the film’s plot. It’s been 22 years since the first movie (premiered), 16 years since No. 3 came out. (This film) is new and cutting-edge and has a point of view of our society that has changed since the original. 

The park is up and running — 20,000 people a day. John Hammond’s dream came true and everything he dreamed of and more is there. But it’s been open long enough that people are no longer intrigued. It’s a sign of the times. Blasé attitude. Not impressed. So then they create this new attraction that will hopefully generate some new interest in the park.

And things go horribly wrong? And things go horribly wrong. As an audience member, you’ll see (the park). And then you’ll see it getting torn down.

Tell me about your character Owen Brady? He’s a a dinosaur behaviorist, specializing in veliciraptors. He studies them and has a good relationship with these animals. He’s like the Velociraptor Whisperer, if you will.

I read where you said he was like a mix of Sam Neill’s Alan Grant and Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm? Yeah, he does have a little of both. He’s got a little bit of the Goldblum cynicism but also the Sam Neill excitement at the wonder of it all, so it’s a combination. It’s a pretty apt description. I stand by that.

With this and the humungous success of Guardians, your career is unrecognizable. How do you get your head around it? I don’t. (laughs) I had an idea of what my niche was as an actor and I didn’t think it was right for me. I was the big comedy guy, the fat friend, sidekick and I was working. I didn’t want to fix it if it wasn’t broken. But it didn’t seem right. Then Zero Dark Thirty came out and I suddenly saw myself as this believable badass.

You were training for Zero Dark Thirty when you put out that Instagram selfie with you in the white pants. I’d lost 70 pounds and my older brother Cully persuaded me to do it. It was douchy and embarrassing but without it, who knows?

Well, you probably wouldn’t have gotten Guardians of the Galaxy without it. Probably. No, actually, definitely. I remember testing a couple of times, it was a process that dragged out for several weeks. And then I get a call asking me to come back to (head of Marvel) Kevin Feige’s office. I’m all the way out in Manhattan Beach, that’s like a 45 minute drive. If they were bringing me in to tell me I didn’t get it, I would’ve been like, ‘F**k you!’ But instead, they held up the selfie from Dark Thirty and said, “You’re too fat for Star Lord. How long will it take you to look like this?” They gave me five and a half months. I did what I had to do.

Obviously you look ripped, but does it all feel unnatural for you? Don’t you want to just pig out … or at least eat normally? Yea, I don’t think so, I like feeling this way, the roles have opened up. It’s my time to do that. I’m 35. I’ve a 2-year-old son at home. I’d like to be able to retire and spend time with my family, and it’s the sad reality of realizing that trying to tighten it up and look as good as I possibly can, for the next few years, is the best way for me to achieve the type of success I need to live my dream, getting out of Hollywood, taking my son and wife and living in the country somewhere. As long as you’re cognizant of the fact that so many Hollywood people turn into assholes, the system is kind of designed to make you self-involved.

Could you see that happening to yourself? My brother said to me if I get “too Hollywood,” he will find me and fart on me or something. (laughs)

Do you feel like you’re at your peak now? I don’t think you ever want to let your guard down. You don’t ever want to feel like you’ve peaked. I don’t ever want to be in that position, thinking “Maybe you can, maybe you should, maybe I will — when it’s all settled down.” It’s a tricky thing.

What does Anna make of this new chapter in your career? Has much changed? I mean, maybe I’m a little more away from home but as far as my life with them goes, nothing has changed.

Aside from your hunky frame … She preferred me soft anyway (laughs]).

Were you both fans of each other before you got together? She didn’t know who I was but I knew who she was. I was a huge fan of the Wayans brothers, back in the day. In Living Color was my jam. And then I saw Scary Movie in the theater and definitely thought she was hilarious.

Were you nervous when you starred together in Take Me Home Tonight? To be honest, I didn’t actually know what her name was, but when I booked this film, and saw she was in it, I was like, “Oh that’s amazing, that’s the girl from Scary Movie. I can’t wait to meet her.”

I imagine there’s a lot of laughter in the Faris/Pratt household? We laugh a lot. She on a daily basis will say something that no one else will ever think to say. Usually I’m the one who’s getting the laughs, she’ll bust me out constantly. It’s a little bit of a competition we have.

Don’t you share some strange passions — taxidermy being one of them? We’re both fascinated by natural history. We have a lot of fossils, dead bugs, and preserved animal taxidermy. We’re going to be like hoarders, buried under all this natural history. And we have lots of roaches in our house. They’re like pieces of art, and have them hung all over the house. 

And that’s something you both liked, before you got together? It’s unusual, so clearly we were meant to be. When we found out that was something we shared, we merged them together on the one wall, so come birthday times and gift time, we get all these wonderful presents of dead bugs. It’s something we both think is cool. Maybe one day, we’ll just have a house dedicated solely to insects.

Does your son Jack “get” what mom and dad do? He seems to freak out when he sees his mom on TV. He’ll cry, “Mama, Mama, mama,” You see his brain melting. I don’t quite get the same reaction.

Let’s talk future projects. I actually don’t know what I’m doing tomorrow.

What about Indiana Jones? I wish! 

So it’s happening? Not as far as I’m aware.

What about Knight Rider? Not that I know of. I loved that show as a kid and a remake, it would only work if it was super funny.

And the Guardians sequel is obviously on the way. That is happening but not for a while. But it made a shitload of money, pretty much guaranteed it was going to happen.

Lastly, explain to me why your nickname’s “Monkeyboy”? I was obsessed with monkeys. It became my nickname in high school. Every Monday I would do a comic strip of monkeys and that’s how it first started, and every time I would see a stuffed monkey, I would buy it. Even when I was a salesman, everyone had a nickname and I became Monkeyboy and it sort of stuck. Some of my closest friends still call me that. They say, ‘Monkeyboy done alright.’

Deer ticks, Lyme disease among the hazards of Wisconsin summers

Ah, summer in Wisconsin. Backyard barbecues and music festivals. Sidewalk dining on streets festooned with colorful flower baskets. Camping, hiking, mountain biking and fishing.

Deer ticks and Lyme disease. 

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Lyme disease, which is spread by deer ticks (also known as black-legged ticks) is the most commonly reported and fastest growing vector-borne disease in the United States. About 300,000 people are affected each year, according to the CDC.

Wisconsin lies within the disease’s primary range. Ninety-five percent of the cases reported in 2012 were in New England, the mid-Atlantic states, Minnesota and Wisconsin, the CDC reported. 

Since 1990, Wisconsin has identified 28,446 confirmed, probable and estimated cases. The state saw steady growth in the number of cases from 1990 to 2011, when 3,609 confirmed and probable cases were reported. There was a drop in 2012, the most recent year for which data are available. 

The increased presence of deer ticks in Wisconsin and the growing number of ticks that are infected with Borrelia (Lyme disease) have made Wisconsin’s great outdoors a more dangerous place than it was a decade ago, according to UW-Madison professor of entomology Susan Paskewitz. The tick’s range also is expanding — both northward and southward, she says. The arachnids are now found in eastern and heavily populated southeastern Wisconsin, where people didn’t have to worry about them in the past.

Not only is the number of ticks carrying Lyme disease on the rise, but also the number of diseases carried by the ticks is greater than previously believed.

One glimmer of encouraging news is that the unusually harsh winter of 2013–14 appears to have diminished — or at least delayed — the onslaught of deer ticks in the state. During a recent field trip to state forests in the northern part of the state, Paskewitz found 60 to 90 percent fewer of the critters at the nymph stage than she found at this time last year. The ticks are most infectious at the nymph, or pre-adult, stage of development, because they are so tiny that they can easily evade detection — not much larger than the tip of a pen. 

Difficult to diagnose

Most tick bites do not result in the transmission of Borrelia, the bacteria that causes Lyme. Those that do tend to leave the defining mark of a bull’s-eye rash, which typically appears 3-30 days after the tick bite. Other symptoms include rash, fever, headache, chills, muscle pain and joint pain.

Some people who are infected never become sick, and others exhibit no signs of the disease until it has progressed to later stages, making diagnosis difficult. Early diagnosis and treatment are critical, because untreated Lyme disease can evolve into a debilitating chronic condition that lasts for years.

Even when treated, Lyme disease can cause fatigue, body aches, migraines and fevers long after the initial course of antibiotics is finished.

Many doctors remain unaware of chronic Lyme, which is named after the Connecticut city where it was first identified. Activists have battled with doctors and insurance companies in recent years to recognize chronic Lyme disease and to prescribe and pay for the prolonged treatment it requires. 

A two-day protest by victims of chronic Lyme disease and people who were misdiagnosed was staged May 22–23 at the Infectious Diseases Society of America headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. 

Victims of the disease include 1980s pop star Debbie Gibson, who headlined FruitFest in Madison this year. She had to cancel her appearance at last year’s FruitFest, and she later revealed via blog and to reporters that she was suffering from Lyme disease.

Gibson’s grim experience mirrors that of many people who are infected.

At first, she had a hard time obtaining an accurate diagnosis — an all-too-common problem among Lyme sufferers. The symptoms are similar to those of many other infections. So unless the patient lives in a heavily affected area, Lyme is not usually one of the first possibilities that doctors consider.

Gibson, who thought she had mononucleosis, said that Lyme was the last thing her doctor suspected. Her condition continued to worsen until she suffered from numbness and tingling in her hands and feet — a problem she described to People magazine as “very disconcerting for a pianist and dancer, to say the least.”

Eventually, she told People, she developed night sweats, fever, nerve tremors, nightmares and migraines. She experienced dramatic weight loss that prompted rude remarks and speculation online that she was anorexic. Before she began treatment, Gibson’s cognitive thinking was so impaired that she lost her sense of direction. 

Gibson finally found what she called a “Lyme-literate doctor,” who put her on an intense round of antibiotics and other medications. It was then that her slow recovery finally began.

Multiple infections

Another complication of diagnosing Lyme disease is that deer ticks can carry a host of other infections that have similar symptoms, and patients can be infected with more than one pathogen from a single bite. At least 14 infections are carried by various species of ticks. The most common ones in Wisconsin are: 

• Human anaplasmosis. There are about 500 new cases of this tick-borne disease in Wisconsin each year, Paskewitz says. Symptoms include a sudden onset of high fever (102 degrees or more), chills, severe headache and muscle aches. The symptoms appear 1-3 weeks after an infectious tick bite. Although people of all ages can get anaplasmosis, it is most severe in the elderly. If left untreated with a suitable antibiotic, it can result in organ failure and death. An infected tick must be attached at least 12-24 hours to transmit the human anaplasmosis bacteria.

• Babesiosis. Symptoms include high fever, muscle aches, fatigue, headache and loss of appetite. Symptoms usually appear 1-6 weeks after a deer tick bite, but may take longer in some individuals. Most people infected with the parasite will have mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. However, people who are immune compromised may develop a severe, possibly fatal, illness.

• Ehrlichiosis. Symptoms, ranging from mild body aches to severe fever and vomiting, usually appear within a week or two after the bite of an infected tick. If treated quickly with appropriate antibiotics, ehrlichiosis generally improves within a few days. If not, it can result in life-threatening damage to the central nervous system. The disease did not appear in Wisconsin until 2011.

In addition to worrying about deer ticks, humans need to know that other species of disease-carrying ticks are expanding their range in the direction of Wisconsin. For instance, most of the Lyme disease found in Wisconsin currently is carried by the deer tick, classified by entomologists as Ixodes scapularis. But ticks of the Ixodes affinis genus, which also carry Lyme, have moved from the southeastern United States into states as far away as Wisconsin and New York.

Lone Star ticks, originally confined to the Southeast, have increased their range as far north as northeastern Missouri. The Lone Star tick carries the deadly Heartland virus, which cannot be treated with antibiotics. 

The Wisconsin Department of Health Service strongly urges people to seek medical attention right away if they develop signs or symptoms of any tick-related illnesses after spending time in areas where ticks are found. Early diagnosis and treatment are vital to preventing severe illness. 

“There are over 300,000 cases of Lyme each year and only 10 percent are picked up,” Dr. Robert Bransfield, clinical professor at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical school, told ABC News. “As a result, many people go on to late-stage symptoms that could have otherwise been avoided.”

PROTECT YOURSELF

While there is a vaccine to protect family pets against Lyme disease, there’s no approved vaccination for humans. The only protection for people is to avoid disease-bearing ticks.

Experts recommend that people spending time outdoors check themselves for ticks periodically and remove them immediately. It takes 24 to 48 hours for the tick to transmit the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. The following precautions are advised for people spending time outdoors in the summer:

• Know when you’re in tick habitat — brushy, wooded areas — where you will need to take precautions.   

• Use a good tick repellent, such as a product containing permethrin or DEET, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.   

• Wear clothes that will help to shield you from ticks. Long-sleeved shirts and long pants are best. Tuck your pants into the top of your socks or boots to create a “tick barrier.”   

• Check frequently for ticks and remove them promptly. This is an important step in preventing disease.   

• Remove the tick slowly and gently using a pair of tweezers. Folk remedies like Vaseline, nail polish remover or matches are not safe or effective methods of tick removal.

— Source: Wisconsin Department of Health Services

Climate, genetics affect how long virus-carrying mosquitoes live

It’s just math: The longer a mosquito lives, the better its odds of transmitting disease to humans or animals.

But as it turns out, factors such as the mosquito’s own genetics and the climate it lives in have a big — albeit complicated and not wholly understood — role to play in its lifespan.

University of Florida researchers, hoping to better understand how West Nile virus affects mosquitoes, set up an experiment they outline in the Journal of Vector Ecology’s current issue.

Mosquitoes can transmit any number of pathogens to humans, including protozoan malaria, West Nile, dengue and chikungunya viruses. Malaria cases range between 350 million and 500 million each year, with 1 million to 3 million deaths every year.

In the experiment, UF researchers examined survival rates for mosquitoes from two laboratory-reared colonies, one from Gainesville, Florida, and one from Vero Beach, Florida.

Half of each of the mosquito colonies was fed West Nile virus-infected blood, the other half kept as a control population, and fed blood without the virus.

They divided the groups once more, this time keeping the mosquitoes at two temperatures, one group at 80.6 degrees, the other at 87.8 degrees Fahrenheit — a rather large difference in temperature for cold-blooded insects.

Their findings were unexpected and illuminating, said Barry Alto, a UF assistant professor of arbovirology based at the Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory in Vero Beach.

“Our results indicate that interactions between mosquitoes and arboviruses are really complex … these things that haven’t really been taken into account previously might make a difference,” said Alto, part of UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

The researchers found that warmer temperature shortened survival. Also, for the most part, the Vero Beach mosquitoes lived longer than those from Gainesville, indicating that some groups, or strains, of mosquitoes might just be genetically hardier than others.

They found that in general, the mosquitoes fared better at cooler temperatures.

But they also found that the West Nile virus-carrying mosquitoes from Gainesville fared worse than their counterparts at the hotter temperatures, and to their surprise, that the Vero Beach-bred mosquitoes carrying West Nile virus lived longer than all other groups at the cooler temperature, including control-group mosquitoes not exposed to the virus. 

Ingesting virus-infected blood may take a toll on the mosquito’s health, Alto said, but it’s clear that other factors: immune response, genetics and the environment, are also at play and need more study.

“It’s quite complex, there’s a lot of stuff going on here,” Alto said. “But I think the take-home  message is that these viruses, when they’re in mosquitoes, not only can they alter parameters like survivorship that are really important to disease transmission, but they can alter them in non-intuitive ways — sometimes enhancing, sometimes decreasing survivorship, and that those situations arise when you start considering other factors of the environment, like temperature.”

Adding to scientists’ knowledge base of how disease affects insects is key to finding the best ways to limit its spread, Alto said.

“In the most general sense, in order for humans to control disease, we really need to know how the mosquito interacts with these viruses,” he said. “In the absence of a human vaccine, the best way to control any sort of mosquito-borne virus is to control the mosquito. Simply put, if the mosquito doesn’t bite you, you’re not going to get the pathogen.”

Besides Alto, the research team included Stephanie Richards, an assistant professor at East Carolina University; Sheri Anderson, a former graduate student at the Florida Medical Entomology Lab and Cynthia Lord, an associate professor in modeling of vector-borne disease transmission, also of the FMEL. The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and UF/IFAS.

Summertime woes worsen with climate change

he Natural Resources Defense Council says climate change will worsen some of the common woes of summertime.

With climate change comes more intensive heat waves and bad air alert days, more insects and poison ivy, more sneezing and wheezing, more foodborne illness and ruined visits to national parks.

“Across America, climate change already is super-charging summer, and with hotter days we’re seeing more risks to our health and happiness,” said Peter Altman, director of NRDC’s Climate Campaign. “We can ease these warm-day woes today, but it would be wrong to doom tomorrow’s families and children to even more heat waves, code red air alerts, disease-carrying ticks, poison ivy rashes, stomach illnesses and degraded national landmarks. That’s not a future they deserve. And that’s why we need to rein in the biggest source of climate pollution, the unrestricted carbon pollution from power plants.”

Heat waves: Temperatures in cities already are higher due to the urban heat island, and rising global temperatures from heat-trapping carbon pollution will make heat waves longer, hotter and more frequent. Eight of the nine warmest years since record-keeping began in 1880 have occurred since 2000. May 2014 was the hottest May ever. And temperatures could be hotter by 4 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100.

Today, heat is the leading weather-related killer in the United States. During heat waves, deaths and illness can occur from conditions caused by direct heat exposure (like heat stroke), but extreme heat can also increase hospital admissions or deaths among people with existing health conditions such as cardiovascular, respiratory, or cerebrovascular diseases. Hot nighttime temperatures are especially dangerous to those vulnerable to heat stress.

What should you do?

• Never leave children or pets in unattended parked vehicles on hot days.

• Slow down. Reduce, reschedule or eliminate strenuous activities until the coolest part of the day.

• People with health problems should stay in the coolest place, which may not be indoors. Use shade outdoors, and drink plenty of water.

• Don’t get too much sun; sunburn lowers your body’s ability to dissipate heat.

Bad air alert days: With climate change, days will be hotter and that will amp up ground-level ozone smog pollution and increase the number of “bad air days.” These days, marked by local code red or code orange alerts warning people to curtail outdoor activities are based on daily air monitoring data gathered in the EPA’s Air Quality Index.

Bad air days put many of us at risk for irritated eyes, noses and lungs — but air pollution is particularly dangerous for people with respiratory diseases like asthma. Already about 27 million Americans suffer from asthma, according to the American Lung Association. As the climate changes, unhealthy air pollution will get worse. Here’s how: Ozone smog forms when pollutants from vehicles, factories and other sources react with sunlight and heat. Increasing temperatures speed this process up, resulting in more smog. Added to the mix are ragweed and other allergens in the air—which are expected to worsen as climate change leads to more pollen production. Also, as dry areas get drier, wildfire risks go up and smoke from burning landscapes will further decrease air quality.

And so, those with asthma, allergies and other respiratory diseases will have a harder time in our hotter future.

What should you do?

• On high-smog days, take breaks and do less intense activities.

• Asthma sufferers should follow their asthma action plans and keep their quick relief medicine handy.

• Use the Air Quality Index to learn about local ozone smog conditions, and take precautions on bad air days.

Ticks and mosquitoes: Tick and mosquito bites are not only a nuisance of summertime, they transmit serious diseases. Unfortunately, climate change may create more favorable conditions for the spread of disease-carrying insects.

Warming temperatures and a changing climate are particularly likely to turn some U.S. regions into new suitable habitat for Lyme-carrying ticks. And the EPA just added Lyme disease as a new indicator of climate change.

Mosquito species that can transmit dengue fever typically live in tropical regions, but two species of mosquitoes that are capable of spreading dengue are now found in 28 states.

Scientists have projected that higher temperatures and lower precipitation leads to a higher probability of West Nile virus infections. One study estimates that by 2050, approximately 68 percent of California will face increased risk from West Nile virus due to climate change. West Nile is also projected to spread northward into other previously unaffected areas. A harbinger: in 2012, Maine recorded its first human case of West Nile Virus.

What should you do?

• After spending time outdoors, especially in wooded or grassy areas, check for ticks and remove them with tweezers. If a tick is attached for less than 24 hours, the chance of getting Lyme disease is lessened.

• To avoid insect bites, tuck in your shirt and wear long sleeves, long pants, and socks when spending time outside.

• Eliminate standing water in rain gutters, buckets, plastic covers and other potential breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Empty and change water in bird baths, rain barrels and wading pools.

Poison ivy: Today, about 350,000 cases of poison ivy-induced contact dermatitis are reported each year. This will get worse with climate change because poison ivy grows faster and is more toxic as carbon dioxide pollution increases.

Even now, the plant can be found in forests, roadsides and even backyards in every state except California (although poison oak grows there with similar health impacts), Hawaii and Alaska.

What should you do?

• Wear long pants, long sleeves, boots, and gloves when working outside. If clothing is exposed, wash separately with hot water and detergent

• Do not burn poison ivy, as the smoke can cause severe allergic respiratory problems.

• If you come in contact, immediately and repeatedly rinse skin with dishwashing soap or detergent and water. Oatmeal baths and hydrocortisone cream can reduce itching.

Sneezing and wheezing: Climate change may already be making life miserable for the 30 to 40 million seasonal allergy sufferers nationwide, according to a number of scientific studies conducted over the past several years. Rising carbon dioxide levels and global temperatures are driving the growth of the very plants that make us sneeze and wheeze.

A 2011 study confirmed that ragweed, a major culprit in seasonal allergies, now sheds pollen up to a month longer than it did in 1995 in some parts of North America. In late summer, higher temperatures can worsen ozone smog at the same time ragweed plants produce their allergenic pollen, creating a “double-whammy” for respiratory health.

What should you do?

• Check daily pollen reports and ozone air quality conditions online, particularly on sunny, still, hot days.

• On days when pollen counts or ozone levels are high, minimize outdoor activities and keep windows closed when possible.

• Shower and wash bedding and outdoor clothing to remove pollen that settles on pillows and sheets and vacuum regularly. After outdoor work or play, use a damp cloth to remove pollen from hair and skin—or shower.

Foodborne illness: Salmonella and Campylobacter are two of the most common forms of bacteria that cause foodborne illness. Scientists have shown that hotter summer temperatures are closely associated with the number of Salmonella and Campylobacter infections. These and other diarrheal diseases are more common when temperatures are higher. Climate change also is expected to increase harmful algal blooms in some areas, which may lead to increases in illnesses from seafood consumption. Already, an estimated 10 percent of foodborne disease outbreaks in the United States result from seafood contaminated with algal toxins.

What should you do?

• Keep perishable food refrigerated — don’t leave out food for more than one hour when temperatures are above 90 Fahrenheit.

• Cook poultry, beef and eggs thoroughly. If you are served undercooked meat in a restaurant, don’t hesitate to send it back.

• Pay attention to shellfish warnings and alerts about harmful algal blooms. Cooking does not destroy algal toxins, so avoiding consumption of contaminated seafood is the only method to prevent illness from harmful algal blooms.

Dangerous swimming conditions: Climate change is expected to increase harmful algal blooms and runoff of pollution into beaches and waterways, leading to more unsafe swimming conditions. Harmful algal blooms, including “red tide” and blue-green algae, can cause respiratory symptoms and also irritate the eyes and skin.

Already, the Great Lakes states are seeing an abundance of algae growth causing beaches to be closed to swimming earlier in the year. Climate projections also show that, in the Great Lakes region, the amount of untreated sewage overflowing into waterways could increase significantly in coming decades as combined sewer systems are overwhelmed with rainwater, triggering even more beach closings.

What should you do?

• Check the safety of your local beach before swimming. Take a look at NRDC’s Testing the Waters Guide.

• Do not swim at your local beach for a day or two after heavy rainstorms, especially if your city does not monitor water quality.

Ruined visits to national landmarks and parks: Many of the United States’ iconic national parks, landmarks and heritage sites are at risk from climate change. Sea level rise, coastal erosion, increased flooding, heavy rains, and more frequent wildfires are damaging park land, archaeological resources, historic buildings, and cultural landscapes across the nation, according to research by the Union of Concerned Scientists, which recently provided case studies on 25 impacted sites.

What should you do?

• Send in a statement of support for the EPA’s Clean Power Plan to curb carbon pollution from power plants.

• Support efforts to build climate resiliency and prepare national parks and historic sites for the impacts of climate change.