Superpests’ swarming across America

superpest swarming

(Foxnews) Stink bugs are invading downtown Sacramento, Japanese mosquitoes are moving into Minnesota, and bed bugs are … well, everywhere, horrifyingly enough. And that’s not even including the weeds, supergerms and parasitic wasps.

Farmers and homeowners in the U.S. are waging war against a range of pests — both homegrown and imported — that threaten crops and livestock, sicken our children, and generally annoy the heck out of us. They come from several sources: Abuse of pesticides and antibiotics have led to the rise of superweeds and superbugs — a problem one researcher called “a slow-train wreck” — while the rise in international trade and tourism has brought with it foreign superpests with no known enemies — and they’re the ones living the American Dream.

Just look at the brown marmorated stink bug.

“There are reports of people using manure shovels and 5-gallon buckets to dispose of them,” said Chuck Ingels, farm advisor and interim county director with the University of California’s Agriculture and Natural Resources arm.

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Plague-Infected Squirrel Found Near Campgrounds in Angeles National Forest

Despite its deadly history, plague infection is serious but rarely fatal in modern times


A squirrel infected with plague bacteria prompted the closure of popular campgrounds in the Angeles National Forest on Wednesday, according to Los Angeles County health officials.

Officials with the county and the U.S. Forest Service closed the Broken Blade, Twisted Arrow and Pima Loops areas of the Table Mountain Campgrounds near Wrightwood, a small mountain town northeast of Los Angeles. A single ground squirrel trapped July 16 was found Tuesday to have tested positive.

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Madagascar battling worst locust plague since 1950s

Locusts threatening livelihood of 60% of population, and have already destroyed a quarter of Madagascar’s food crops

MDG Locusts in Madagascar

A locust swarm in Madagascar’s Isalo national park. Photograph: Tiphaine Desjardin/FAO


At least 1.5m hectares (3.7m acres) could be infested by locusts in two-thirds of the country by September, warns the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Findings from a damage assessment indicate that rice and maize crop losses due to locusts in the mid- and south-western parts of Madagascar vary, on average, from 40% to 70%, reaching up to 100% in some plots.

Madagascar’s agriculture ministry declared a national disaster in November. The food security and livelihoods of 13 million people are at stake, about 60% of the island’s population. Around 9 million people depend directly on agriculture for food and income.

“We don’t have enough funds for pesticide, helicopters and training,” said Alexandre Huynh, the FAO’s representative in Madagascar. “What is extremely costly is to run helicopters [needed to spray pesticides]. We have to start in September, and we have two to three months to prepare. We need $22.4m [£15.1m] but we are quite short of that. Discussions are going on with donors.”

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UN investigating possible human-to-human transmission of new deadly bird flu in Shanghai

Woman in face mask via Shutterstock

By David Ferguson
Thursday, April 18, 2013

Chinese health officials are reporting that the new H7N9 strain of influenza could be making the leap from animal-to-human infections to human-to-human cases. According to Reuters, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention is analyzing “family clusters” of people who have fallen ill in hopes of understanding more about the virus.

“We are paying close attention to these cases of family clusters,” Feng Zijian, a spokesperson for the Center, said on Wednesday. “(We) are still analyzing in-depth to see which has the greatest possibility — did it occur first from avian-to-human transmission, and then a human-to-human infection, whether they had a common history of exposure, were exposed to infected objects or whether it was caused by the environment.”

Dr Zeng Guang of the the Center’s chief of epidemiology was quoted in the South China Morning Post as saying that 40 percent of patients who have contracted the virus have not had any contact with poultry or birds that could spread the disease.

“How were they infected? It is still a mystery,” he said.

The current number of confirmed infections stands at 82, 17 of whom have died.

“Further investigations are still under way to figure out whether the family cluster involved human-to-human transmission,” Feng told China Daily. “Human-to-human transmission, in theory, is possible, but is highly sporadic.”

Among the cases that scientists are studying are the deaths of a Shanghai father may have passed the virus to his two sons and another Shanghai man who may have given the disease to his wife.

The World Health Organization, which operates under the aegis of the United Nations, is sending a team of experts to China to study whether the virus has mutated into a human-to-human transmissible form. Currently, however, there is “no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission.”

Viruses which are only capable of limited human-to-human transmission and can spread between family members through prolonged contact and intimate exposure are considered lower risk than viruses that are capable of effective human transmission, and spread through casual contact like norovirus and the flu.

The H1N1 avian virus that infected people in 2009 and 2010 was of limited human transmissibility, and as a result, caused hundreds of thousand deaths rather than millions. An avian flu that is capable of effective human-to-human transmission could potentially pose a global health emergency.


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Virus Goes Missing at University of Texas Medical Branch Lab

Houston Chronicle
March 24, 2013

Highly magnified transmission electron of Lassa virus virions, member of the virus family Arenaviridae, same as the Guanarito (GTOV) arenavirus.

A vial containing a potentially harmful virus has gone missing from a laboratory at the University of Texas Medical Branch, officials said.

The missing vial, which contains less than a quarter of a teaspoon an infectious disease, had been stored in a locked freezer, designed to handle biological material safely, within the Galveston National Laboratory on UTMB’s campus, officials said. During a routine internal inspection last week, UTMB officials realized one vial of a virus called Guanarito was not accounted for at the facility.

Scott Weaver, the laboratory’s scientific director, said Guanarito is an emerging disease that has caused deadly diseases in Venezuela. The federal government prioritizes it for research because it has the potential to be used a weapon for terrorists.

On Tuesday, an investigator discovered that only four out of five vials were stored of the virus in the grid system. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was notified immediately.

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According to the Center for Biosecurity, an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the US’s resilience to major biological threats, the Guanarito virus is a member of the Arenaviridae group of hemorrhagic fever viruses (HFVs) referred to as the New World arenaviruses.

Continuing from their site:

HFVs as Biological Weapons

Some HFVs are considered to be a significant threat for use as biological weapons due to their potential for causing widespread illness and death. Because of their infectious properties, associated high rates of morbidity and mortality, and ease of person-to-person spread, Ebola, Marburg, Junin, Rift Valley fever, and yellow fever viruses have been deemed to pose a particularly serious threat, and in 1999 the HFVs were classified as category A bioweapons agents by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Several HFVs were reportedly developed as aerosol weapons in the past by some countries. An attack using an HFV as a biological weapon could affect both human and animal populations. Rift Valley fever virus, for example, which is usually transmitted by mosquitoes, can infect livestock, which, in turn, can infect more mosquitoes, widening the scope of an outbreak.

Read more

Alex Jones warns a deadly virus gone missing could be the cover story used before releasing the real thing.


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Tehran Rats: Iran Reportedly Battles Giant ‘Mutant’ Rodents With Snipers

Too bad Iran can’t Photoshop its way out of this problem.


Although Tehran has had a decades-long struggle with rats, its rodent problem seems to have grown to epic proportions as of late. Giant rats that have been flushed out of their nests by melting snow are the focus of a renewed extermination effort in the Iranian capital, according to several reports.

Some of the rodents reportedly weigh as much as 11 pounds.

tehran rats
A young volunteer picks up a dead rat from an open drainage channel in Tehran May 20. Tehran has a plague of rats estimated to number up to 25 million after winter snows melted raising the underground water level and flushing the rats from their nests. Municipal authorities have imported approximately 45 tons of rat poison and set up information tents to help deal with the plague. (Reuters)

The International Business Times quoted Tehran city council environment adviser Ismail Kahram, who told Iranian news website that the rats “seem to have had a genetic mutation, probably as a result of radiations and the chemical used on them.”

“They are now bigger and look different. These are changes that normally take millions of years of evolution. They have jumped from 60 grams to five kilos, and cats are now smaller than them,” Kahram said, according to the outlet.

The Huffington Post reached out to several rat experts to assess the validity of Kahram’s claim. Dr. David Baker, laboratory animal veterinarian at LSU, told HuffPost that it’s unlikely the rats got super-sized as the result of a mutation.

“Nearly all genetic mutations identified across the field of biology are harmful and confer a disadvantage to the species rather than an advantage. It’s not like in the sci-fi movies,” Baker said in an email.

However, he pointed out that there are several species of “giant” rats found around the world that can achieve the sizes described by Kahram. Because their growth plates don’t fuse after puberty, Baker explained, even common black rats can get very large.

“During the Middle Ages, black rats in Europe reportedly grew large enough — and children were small enough — to carry off babies. Those had to have been some big rats,” Baker wrote.

Regardless of size, Tehran is reportedly ramping up its response to the rodents. Apparently a team of army snipers is now hunting the rats by night, using rifles equipped with infrared scopes. IBT reported that 2,205 rats have been killed so far.

It’s like a warped bonus round of “Big Buck Hunter,” except the only ones scoring points off this emergency are the media. The Times of Israel made a “Princess Bride” reference in its coverage about the rats, whereas the Times of London took aim at Tehran’s “experience when it comes to [exterminating]… its political opponents.”

Whether Tehran’s rats are mutated or not, some scientists have reported that certainrat populations are becoming resistant to poison. In 2012, a researchers in Britain published findings that estimated 75 percent of rats in West England were resistant to rodenticide.


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Egypt Struck by Swarm of Locusts Ahead of Passover

To those who thought the Passover Haggadah might have been exaggerating – think again. Millions of locusts have swooped down on to Egypt.

Giza pyramids

Giza pyramids


As a reminder to those who thought the account related in the Passover Haggadah might have been an exaggeration – think again. Millions of locusts have swooped down in a swarm from the sky on to the land of Egypt.

The locust plague struck over the weekend in the Giza region, home to a cluster of famous pyramids, according to reports in Arab media. 

Officials estimated that at least 30 million of the insects have swarmed on to the fields and farms about 15 miles southwest of Cairo. The locust swarm is causing massive damage to agriculture in the area, Alwatan News reported. 

In some parts of the Middle East, however, locusts are used for food – and one particular ancient type, known to Yemenite Jews, is actually considered kosher.

Residents were warned not to try to drive away the locusts themselves in order to avoid creating further damage. Instead, “Egyptian armed forces and border guards are attempting to fight the swarm with all means at their disposal,” said Egyptian Agriculture Minister Dr. Salah Abd Al Mamon.

“I ask the families living in the locust-plagues areas not to burn tires,” Mamon appealed. “This does not chase away the locusts, but only causes damage and could ignite large-scale fires that would cost in lives.”

Instead, Mamon noted the weather forecasters have predicted strong winds are soon to come, which he hopes will take the locusts towards the Red Sea, and Saud Arabia. The department also plans to use crop duster planes to address the infestation.    


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