Matt Salmon Seeks To Block Research That Could Slow Zika Virus Spread In The USA
Six years ago, Alessandro Barghini and Bruno de Medeiros, zoologists from the University of Sao Paolo in Brazil, published a review of existing scientific research into the impact of the spread of electrical lighting on the behavior of insects that spread human disease. Specifically, the reviewed studies of the contributing role of artificial lighting in the spread of Chagas, leishmaniasis, and malaria.
Barghini and Medeiros concluded that, “Evidence supports our hypothesis that artificial lighting leads to a higher risk of infection from vector-borne diseases. We believe that this is related not only to the simple attraction of traditional vectors to light sources but also to changes in the behavior of both humans and insects that result in new modes of disease transmission.” Mosquitos are attracted to artificial lights at night, which are placed in locations where human beings also congregate. Artificial lighting can therefore increase the rate at which insect-borne diseases spread through human populations.
Back in 2010, the Zika virus was not a problem in Brazil. That changed last year, when large numbers of babies born with abnormally small heads (microcephaly) alerted public health officials to the arrival of the mosquito-borne illness in that country. This year, the Zika virus is spreading throughout Latin America and into the United States, leading public health officials here to request emergency funding to fight the spread of the disease, which threatens to devastate huge numbers of families with incurable birth defects. The Republicans in the Senate and House of Representatives have refused to provide anything more than a fraction of those anti-Zika funds.
Last year, there were zero pregnant women in the United States who were under watch by the Centers of Disease Control for exposure to Zika. Last week, 48 pregnant women in the United States were confirmed to be exposed to Zika. This week, that number shot up to 157 pregnant women in the US confirmed to be infected with the Zika virus, and many more under watch by the CDC.
The consequences of Zika infection in pregnant mothers are so grave that in large areas of our country, young couples are deciding to indefinitely delay having children. Within the area under threat is the 5th congressional district of Arizona, not far from the border of Mexico, a country where Zika is rampant. Arizona has already had one confirmed case of Zika infection, and neighboring California has had 44 cases so far this year. The species of mosquito that carries the Zika virus has been found in multiple locations in Arizona.
In spite of this danger, the politician who represents Arizona’s 5th district in Congress, Republican Matt Salmon, introduced a bill yesterday that would remove funding from scientific research that could help public health officials understand how to contain the Zika virus, and the mosquitos that spread the disease. Salmon’s bill, H.R. 5300, would “prohibit any appropriation of funds to the National Park Service for the of study how artificial light affects the movements and behavior of insects”.
In 2010, Barghini and Medeiros urged additional research to reveal the details of the interaction between the spread of artificial lighting and the encouragement of disease spread through biting insects. In particular, they suggested that rural areas would be ideal settings for such studies, because they provide opportunities for comparison between insect behavior in lit and unlit areas. They wrote, “Artificial night lighting changes the behavior of both people and insects and thereby promotes contact between human beings and vector species, including some that have not traditionally been involved in transmitting disease to humans. This may lead to new and unpredictable ecological relationships that need to be understood so that electrical energy can be offered to rural populations in areas where vector-borne diseases are endemic without increasing their risk of acquiring such diseases. In order to properly test this hypothesis, the presence of night lighting in or near households must be recorded in epidemiological surveys, especially in recently electrified rural areas. We trust that this contribution will shed light on this neglected problem and encourage epidemiologists to carry out studies that take into account changes in human and vector behavior that is related to artificial lighting.”
Congressman Salmon isn’t aware of this research, it seems, though it’s easy to find if one bothers to look. Instead of bothering to look, Salmon appears to have simply come across a note about federal funding scientific research into insect behavior and concluded that it must be absurd. Salmon has thoughtlessly categorized this area of science as frivolous, and a waste of taxpayer money.
Matt Salmon didn’t bother to do his homework, and so, as a result, vital research that could slow the spread of the Zika virus in the United States is in jeopardy. On Election Day this year, residents of the 5th congressional district of Arizona would do well to remember the Salmon’s irresponsible attitude toward public service, and vote to place a better informed candidate in this contested seat – biologist Talia Fuentes, who understands enough about science to know that defunding disease vector research just as the USA faces a new, dangerous pathogen is something no member of Congress should ever suggest.