'We Now Have a New Exotic Disease in Europe': Native Zika Virus Spreads Due to Climate Change
The first three cases of Zika that started in southern France have been confirmed and experts are sounding the alarm that the climate crisis may cause more cases to spread across the continent, as CNN reported.
The European Centers for Disease Control reported that all three cases were in Hyères, a French Riviera town. In all three cases the infected person had no travel history to countries where Zika is endemic, according to Zika News.
This is the first time that local tiger mosquitoes have developed and spread the virus, which stands in stark contrast to the nearly 2,400 cases that Europe has seen since 2015 when an outbreak spread in South America, as The Telegraph reported.
All three patients got sick within a short time of each other, which suggests they were all part of the same transmission cycle. Since they have all recovered, the European Centers for Disease Control says the risk to travelers and residents is low, according to CNN.
The Earth's warming climate coupled with an increase in travel between continents means tropical diseases are likely to spread and thrive in areas where they would have once been unthinkable. The planet just experienced its hottest October on record and four out of the past five months have set new average temperature records, which creates a trend that tropical viruses and bacteria will find hospitable.
Experts warn that Zika and other tropical diseases are likely to flourish in Europe, as CNN reported. This is "the first time that locally acquired Zika cases were identified, which poses new challenges for the control of these diseases," Moritz Kraemer, a researcher into infectious diseases at the University of Oxford, told CNN.
Kraemer added that native Zika is particularly surprising because the type of mosquito that carries it in South America isn't usually found in Europe. That means the virus has moved to the Asian tiger mosquito, which is now commonly found in southern Europe, according to CNN.
The Asian tiger mosquito "has become common in parts of southern France, where it has probably also been responsible for transmission of dengue. It has also been detected widely throughout southern Europe and sporadically further north," said Anna Checkley, consultant in Tropical Medicine at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases, to CNN. "Warmer temperatures favor its survival, and as we go into winter it is much less likely that we will see further new cases. (But) if global temperatures increase, this mosquito may spread further north in Europe and we may see small clusters of cases further north."
"It's one thing for travelers to come back to a country with a disease, that happens all the time," said professor James Logan, head of the department of disease control at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, to The Telegraph. "It's another thing completely when a disease is transmitted locally as it demonstrates capacity. We now have a new exotic disease in Europe. In many ways this is a bit of a wake up call for the continent."
Logan added that the three confirmed cases suggest the disease is more widespread than we know, since most people who catch Zika do not show any symptoms. Others may have suffered headaches, nausea or a mild fever but not realized that they had the Zika virus, as The Telegraph reported.
The primary concern with Zika is that it causes birth defects when a pregnant woman is infected. It can lead to microcephaly, a neurological disorder that causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads, which causes severe developmental issues and sometimes death. Zika can also cause other problems for babies, including eye problems and hearing loss, as CNN reported.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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