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Fishing With Insecticide-Laced Mosquito Nets Is a Global Phenomenon

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By Benjamin Graham

Fishermen in the Dili district of Timor-Leste have found an extra perk of the insecticide added to their mosquito bed nets: the chemicals act as a Taser for shrimp. The bed nets are supposed to ward off malaria, but, with a few strong branches and some twine, it's easy to refashion them into fishing nets that immobilize small shrimp or fish with toxins and ensnare them in the mesh.


The fishermen of Dili aren't the only ones to come up with this idea, either. People in developing countries around the world are repurposing mosquito nets to catch fish, according to a new study, and the practice could have significant environmental and socioeconomic implications.

In nearby Papua New Guinea, study participants reported Chinese traders giving mosquito nets to fishermen to catch seahorses, a valuable ingredient in Chinese traditional medicine. An ocean away, on the shallow waters of Lake Alaotra, Madagascar's largest freshwater body, people use their bed nets to catch juvenile fish.

A juvenile trevally caught in a mosquito net in coastal Mozambique. Trevally are a group of species that are commercially important in the region.Rebecca Short

None of this was too surprising to Rebecca Short, a researcher with the Zoological Society of London and lead author of the new study. Short first witnessed the practice in a beach town in Mozambique, where she watched two women use mosquito nets to scoop small sea creatures out of the surf.

Later during the trip, Short realized just how widespread the phenomenon might be. Women were lined up side-by-side along a remote sand flat, straining the water for tiny fish. "It was just a sea of blue nets and women fishing," Short said. "It was like, yep, okay, this is not a small issue."

In regions of the world threatened by malaria, bed nets treated with insecticides are an increasingly common public health tool, and the results have been promising. By some estimates, half of the world's population at risk of contracting the mosquito-borne parasite that causes malaria was sleeping under a bed net by 2013, up from 2 percent a decade earlier, and the World Health Organization has documented a sharp drop in global malaria cases.

But there is growing anecdotal evidence that the nets, often provided for free or at a subsidized price by hospitals and aid organizations, are being put to other uses, including fishing.

Fishers using mosquito net in Mozambique. Rebecca Short

After her experiences in Mozambique, Short set out to see just how widespread this practice might be. "There's an awful lot of piecemeal evidence out there of this happening in a lot of different places," she said. "But the general consensus was to not really worry about it, that it was happening in isolated places."

Short and her colleagues created an online survey that elicited responses from more than 100 people working in conservation, public health and fisheries management around the globe. What they found overturns the conventional thinking. From Honduras to the Philippines, the respondents reported communities using mosquito nets to fish. The study was published on Jan. 31 in the journal PLOS ONE. "We've kind of dispelled that it's just happening in inland waters in a couple of places in Africa," Short said.

Two-thirds of the observations were in marine environments, rather than freshwater. And while most cases were still concentrated in East Africa, there were reports from as far away as Nepal, American Samoa and Ecuador.

Emma Bush, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Stirling in Scotland, said many of these findings seem obvious in hindsight. In 2013, when she began studying mosquito net fishing among the Giriama people of Kenya's Mida Creek, little was known about how prevalent the practice might be. To get global health and conservation organizations to pay attention, evidence was needed.

"It was too easy for alternative mosquito net use to be dismissed as a trivial issue," Bush wrote in an email. "This study is significant because it formalizes our knowledge about mosquito net fishing and provides critical evidence that it is a global issue needing further attention."

A good-size catch using mosquito net, consisting mainly of juvenile fish, in Mozambique. Rebecca Short

Some conservationists and natural resource management officials have warned that the insecticides in the nets could contaminate the ecosystem and harm people who eat the fish, and that the practice could be damaging fish stocks. The nets' small mesh size snares juvenile fish en masse before they can reproduce, while indiscriminately scooping up all sorts of aquatic life. The widespread availability of mosquito nets also increases the number of people plying the water for food and, potentially, the overall pressure on fish stocks.

For these reasons, fisheries management officials have warned against the practice across Africa. In many places, fishing with a mosquito net is now illegal. And it's not just scientists and government officials who are concerned. Fights have broken out between established fishermen and newcomers with mosquito nets, who are viewed as a threat.

The potential ecological harm of mosquito net fishing is a legitimate concern, Short said, but she believes more study is needed and remains neutral on whether the practice is, on the whole, good or bad. "It's hugely in debate," she said. "There are very positive short-term impacts for the more vulnerable fishers." In many places, mosquito nets offer perhaps the cheapest, easiest way to start fishing, she said, opening a door for people who might have no other means to improve their diets and incomes.

Context also is critical, she said. In parts of Mozambique, for example, it's women who do most of the mosquito net fishing to feed their families, Short said. While they might sell some of the extra fish they catch within their village, theirs isn't a commercial operation. But elsewhere the practice is larger in scale and dominated by men. In Madagascar, for example, participants in Short's study reported that fishers were catching large hauls of fish using mosquito nets and selling them to animal-feed companies.

Women who fish with mosquito nets in coastal Mozambique call the technique "kutanda," which means "to drag" and was formerly done with cloth. Rebecca Short

Some researchers argue there might even be ecological value in mosquito net fishing. Jeppe Kolding, an ecologist at the University of Bergen in Norway, is a proponent of the controversial "balanced harvest" approach to fisheries management, in which fishers catch a wide range of ages and species, rather than just targeting large, healthy adults. Mosquito nets capture the smallest fish in the food chain, which are plentiful, easy to dry and transport, and nutritious because they are eaten whole. "It's almost like instant noodles. They dissolve in hot water," he said.

Communities in the Sundarbans forest of coastal Bangladesh use mosquito nets to sieve fish from the muddy waters. Bangladesh was one of several Asian nations, including Nepal and the Philippines, that turned up reports of mosquito net fishing in a recent study. Nadia Richman

For Short, one thing is clear: more research on mosquito net fishing is needed. "It appears to be increasing at an alarming rate, so we need to get a handle on it," she said.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.

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By Sherry H-Y. Chou, Aarti Sarwal and Neha S. Dangayach

The patient in the case report (let's call him Tom) was 54 and in good health. For two days in May, he felt unwell and was too weak to get out of bed. When his family finally brought him to the hospital, doctors found that he had a fever and signs of a severe infection, or sepsis. He tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 infection. In addition to symptoms of COVID-19, he was also too weak to move his legs.

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We are neurologists specializing in intensive care and leading studies related to neurological complications from COVID-19. Given the occurrence of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in prior pandemics with other corona viruses like SARS and MERS, we are investigating a possible link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19 and tracking published reports to see if there is any link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19.

Some patients may not seek timely medical care for neurological symptoms like prolonged headache, vision loss and new muscle weakness due to fear of getting exposed to virus in the emergency setting. People need to know that medical facilities have taken full precautions to protect patients. Seeking timely medical evaluation for neurological symptoms can help treat many of these diseases.

What Is Guillain-Barre Syndrome?

Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body's own immune system attacks and injures the nerves outside of the spinal cord or brain – the peripheral nervous system. Most commonly, the injury involves the protective sheath, or myelin, that wraps nerves and is essential to nerve function.

Without the myelin sheath, signals that go through a nerve are slowed or lost, which causes the nerve to malfunction.

To diagnose Guillain-Barre Syndrome, neurologists perform a detailed neurological exam. Due to the nerve injury, patients often may have loss of reflexes on examination. Doctors often need to perform a lumbar puncture, otherwise known as spinal tap, to sample spinal fluid and look for signs of inflammation and abnormal antibodies.

Studies have shown that giving patients an infusion of antibodies derived from donated blood or plasma exchange – a process that cleans patients' blood of harmful antibodies - can speed up recovery. A very small subset of patients may need these therapies long-term.

The majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients improve within a few weeks and eventually can make a full recovery. However, some patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome have lingering symptoms including weakness and abnormal sensations in arms and/or legs; rarely patients may be bedridden or disabled long-term.

Guillain-Barre Syndrome and Pandemics

As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the globe, many neurologic specialists have been on the lookout for potentially serious nervous system complications such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

Though Guillain-Barre Syndrome is rare, it is well known to emerge following bacterial infections, such as Campylobacter jejuni, a common cause of food poisoning, and a multitude of viral infections including the flu virus, Zika virus and other coronaviruses.

Studies showed an increase in Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases following the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, suggesting a possible connection. The presumed cause for this link is that the body's own immune response to fight the infection turns on itself and attacks the peripheral nerves. This is called an "autoimmune" condition. When a pandemic affects as many people as our current COVID-19 crisis, even a rare complication can become a significant public health problem. That is especially true for one that causes neurological dysfunction where the recovery takes a long time and may be incomplete.

The first reports of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in COVID-19 pandemic originated from Italy, Spain and China, where the pandemic surged before the U.S. crisis.

Though there is clear clinical suspicion that COVID-19 can lead to Guillain-Barre Syndrome, many important questions remain. What are the chances that someone gets Guillain-Barre Syndrome during or following a COVID-19 infection? Does Guillain-Barre Syndrome happen more often in those who have been infected with COVID-19 compared to other types of infections, such as the flu?

The only way to get answers is through a prospective study where doctors perform systematic surveillance and collect data on a large group of patients. There are ongoing large research consortia hard at work to figure out answers to these questions.

Understanding the Association Between COVID-19 and Guillain-Barre Syndrome

While large research studies are underway, overall it appears that Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a rare but serious phenomenon possibly linked to COVID-19. Given that more than 10.7 million cases have been reported for COVID-19, there have been 10 reported cases of COVID-19 patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far – only two reported cases in the U.S., five in Italy, two cases in Iran and one from Wuhan, China.

It is certainly possible that there are other cases that have not been reported. The Global Consortium Study of Neurological Dysfunctions in COVID-19 is actively underway to find out how often neurological problems like Guillain-Barre Syndrome is seen in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Also, just because Guillain-Barre Syndrome occurs in a patient diagnosed with COVID-19, that does not imply that it was caused by the virus; this still may be a coincident occurrence. More research is needed to understand how the two events are related.

Due to the pandemic and infection-containment considerations, diagnostic tests, such as a nerve conduction study that used to be routine for patients with suspected Guillain-Barre Syndrome, are more difficult to do. In both U.S. cases, the initial diagnosis and treatment were all based on clinical examination by a neurological experts rather than any tests. Both patients survived but with significant residual weakness at the time these case reports came out, but that is not uncommon for Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients. The road to recovery may sometimes be long, but many patients can make a full recovery with time.

Though the reported cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far all have severe symptoms, this is not uncommon in a pandemic situation where the less sick patients may stay home and not present for medical care for fear of being exposed to the virus. This, plus the limited COVID-19 testing capability across the U.S., may skew our current detection of Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases toward the sicker patients who have to go to a hospital. In general, the majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients do recover, given enough time. We do not yet know whether this is true for COVID-19-related cases at this stage of the pandemic. We and colleagues around the world are working around the clock to find answers to these critical questions.

Sherry H-Y. Chou is an Associate Professor of Critical Care Medicine, Neurology, and Neurosurgery, University of Pittsburgh.

Aarti Sarwal is an Associate Professor, Neurology, Wake Forest University.

Neha S. Dangayach is an Assistant Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Disclosure statement: Sherry H-Y. Chou receives funding from The University of Pittsburgh Clinical Translational Science Institute (CTSI), the National Institute of Health, and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Dean's Faculty Advancement Award. Sherry H-Y. Chou is a member of Board of Directors for the Neurocritical Care Society. Neha S. Dangayach receives funding from the Bee Foundation, the Friedman Brain Institute, the Neurocritical Care Society, InCHIP-UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media Seed Grant. She is faculty for emcrit.org and for AiSinai. Aarti Sarwal does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Reposted with permission from The Conversation.


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By Jake Johnson

Unity Task Forces formed by presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders unveiled sweeping party platform recommendations Wednesday that—while falling short of progressive ambitions in a number of areas, from climate to healthcare—were applauded as important steps toward a bold and just policy agenda that matches the severity of the moment.

"We've moved the needle a lot, especially on environmental justice and upping Biden's ambition," said Sunrise Movement co-founder and executive director Varshini Prakash, a member of the Biden-Sanders Climate Task Force. "But there's still more work to do to push Democrats to act at the scale of the climate crisis."

The climate panel—co-chaired by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and former Secretary of State John Kerry—recommended that the Democratic Party commit to "eliminating carbon pollution from power plants by 2035," massively expanding investments in clean energy sources, and "achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions for all new buildings by 2030."

In a series of tweets Wednesday night, Ocasio-Cortez—the lead sponsor of the House Green New Deal resolution—noted that the Climate Task Force "shaved 15 years off Biden's previous target for 100% clean energy."

"Of course, like in any collaborative effort, there are areas of negotiation and compromise," said the New York Democrat. "But I do believe that the Climate Task Force effort meaningfully and substantively improved Biden's positions."

 

The 110 pages of policy recommendations from the six eight-person Unity Task Forces on education, the economy, criminal justice, immigration, climate change, and healthcare are aimed at shaping negotiations over the 2020 Democratic platform at the party's convention next month.

Sanders said that while the "end result isn't what I or my supporters would've written alone, the task forces have created a good policy blueprint that will move this country in a much-needed progressive direction and substantially improve the lives of working families throughout our country."

"I look forward to working with Vice President Biden to help him win this campaign," the Vermont senator added, "and to move this country forward toward economic, racial, social, and environmental justice."

Biden, for his part, applauded the task forces "for helping build a bold, transformative platform for our party and for our country."

"I am deeply grateful to Bernie Sanders for working with us to unite our party and deliver real, lasting change for generations to come," said the former vice president.

On the life-or-death matter of reforming America's dysfunctional private health insurance system—a subject on which Sanders and Biden clashed repeatedly throughout the Democratic primary process—the Unity Task Force affirmed healthcare as "a right" but did not embrace Medicare for All, the signature policy plank of the Vermont senator's presidential bid.

Instead, the panel recommended building on the Affordable Care Act by establishing a public option, investing in community health centers, and lowering prescription drug costs by allowing the federal government to negotiate prices. The task force also endorsed making all Covid-19 testing, treatments, and potential vaccines free and expanding Medicaid for the duration of the pandemic.

"It has always been a crisis that tens of millions of Americans have no or inadequate health insurance—but in a pandemic, it's potentially catastrophic for public health," the task force wrote.

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, a former Michigan gubernatorial candidate and Sanders-appointed member of the Healthcare Task Force, said that despite major disagreements, the panel "came to recommendations that will yield one of the most progressive Democratic campaign platforms in history—though we have further yet to go."

 

Observers and advocacy groups also applauded the Unity Task Forces for recommending the creation of a postal banking system, endorsing a ban on for-profit charter schools, ending the use of private prisons, and imposing a 100-day moratorium on deportations "while conducting a full-scale study on current practices to develop recommendations for transforming enforcement policies and practices at ICE and CBP."

Marisa Franco, director of immigrant rights group Mijente, said in a statement that "going into these task force negotiations, we knew we were going to have to push Biden past his comfort zone, both to reconcile with past offenses and to carve a new path forward."

"That is exactly what we did, unapologetically," said Franco, a member of the Immigration Task Force. "For years, Mijente, along with the broader immigrant rights movement, has fought to reshape the narrative around immigration towards racial justice and to focus these very demands. We expect Biden and the Democratic Party to implement them in their entirety."

"There is no going back," Franco added. "Not an inch, not a step. We must only move forward from here."

Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.