Realizing that a combined effort is needed to reduce the transmission of illnesses like Lyme disease and Zika virus, the Entomological Society of America is heading up a new coalition that hopes to curtail human suffering from these diseases.
Diseases transmitted by insects like ticks and mosquitoes can seriously debilitate or even kill people. To address the problem, the Entomological Society of America has partnered with 21 other groups to launch the Vector-Borne Disease Network (VBDN), a coalition that plans to work with policymakers and federal agencies to help stop the spread of vector-borne illnesses.
“The driving force behind this is, if you control the vectors—and vectors are the things that transmit the disease—you can mitigate the damage they cause,” said ESA Director of Strategic Initiatives Chris Stelzig, CAE.
ESA—whose members run the gamut from those who study insects to those who attempt to control their spread using extermination methods—felt it was in the perfect position to spearhead a new network. “We saw the need for more collaboration, for increased funding, and trying to influence international and national policy,” Stelzig said. “We’re trying to assist our federal partners, like the CDC, in raising this as an issue of importance and seeking federal funding where it is needed.”
Numerous diseases are spread by mosquitoes and ticks. Among them are the Zika virus, which can cause severe fetal birth defects; Lyme disease, known to cause a host of chronic health problems; and two that can be fatal—Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Anaplasmosis.
“There is nowhere in the United States that is not affected by vector-borne disease,” Stelzig said. “They don’t have a whole lot of Lyme disease in Arizona, but they certainly have their own things. As climate change becomes more of a factor, we are seeing a steady southward march of some of the northern pests, and a northward march of some of the southern pests.”
A Quick Start
While VBDN had initially planned to organize during its first few months, it actually found itself jumping right into action. In a bit of happenstance, ESA was talking to Capitol Hill staffers about VBDN and learned Sen. Susan Collins (R-Me.) would be introducing the TICK Act to help fight tick-borne illnesses. “We were able to have an immediate impact,” Stelzig said, noting VBDN was given access to the draft bill and an opportunity to offer input. “We realized it was focused on the disease, rather than the vector management, and we were able to introduce some changes to focus on vector management.”
While the network was able to dip its toes in the policy waters already, Stelzig said much of the rest of the year will be spent reaching out to additional groups who might want to partner, honing its priorities, and gearing up for the 2020 spring appropriations season.
VBDN, according to ESA’s website, “envisions a world where human suffering from arthropod disease vectors is reduced.” Stelzig said VBDN can make a real difference for human health because the group includes such a broad group of researchers, scientists, and experts who have access to information about new and emerging insect patterns.
“The additional focus isn’t the diseases we know, it is the diseases that are going to arise, that will seemingly come out of nowhere,” he said. “We want to focus on making sure [our members’] knowledge is transferred to the appropriate federal stakeholders.”