DAILY DOSE: Dengue infections have hit an all-time high in America; Call of Duty players are being infected by an online worm.

Dengue cases in the Americas in 2023 have exceeded three million, marking the second-highest annual incidence since 1980. Experts believe that climatic changes, including increased temperatures and shifts in rainfall patterns, which foster the growth of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the dengue vector, could explain the rise. A surge in dengue incidences has been noted in areas previously thought to be unsuitable for the mosquito, such as southern Brazil and high-altitude Mexico City. Researchers anticipate that these changing environmental conditions will raise the epidemic potential of dengue by 10–20% in most locations, regardless of climate-change scenarios. Furthermore, the lengthening of dengue seasons due to global warming could facilitate the disease’s spread. The ongoing El Niño event, causing weather extremes, could increase transmission of dengue, especially in Central and North America. While various strategies to curb the disease, such as mosquito traps, insecticides, and modified mosquitoes, are in use, the widespread adoption of vaccines could have the most significant impact. However, their use has been limited by efficacy, safety concerns, and high costs. Over 1,300 dengue-related deaths have been recorded in the Americas so far in 2023. (Nature)

Alpha-gal syndrome (AGS), an allergy to meat and animal products triggered by lone star tick bites, is becoming an escalating public health concern in the US. The condition, induced by antibodies reacting to a carbohydrate found in meat, was unknown to 78% of 1,500 primary care doctors, pediatricians, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners surveyed. From over 295,000 alpha-gal–specific IgE antibody tests between 2017 and 2022, around 30.5% (90,018) were positive, indicating possible AGS. Combining these results with suspected cases from 2010 to 2018, researchers estimated that 96,000 to 450,000 people in the US might have been affected by AGS since 2010. The symptoms, ranging from hives to severe stomach pain, occur two to six hours after exposure to alpha-gal, making it harder for people to identify foods as the trigger. As there is no cure, the best treatment is avoidance of alpha-gal. (Ars Technica)

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The 2020 Facebook and Instagram Election Study (FIES), a collaboration between Meta and independent scientists, has published initial findings in Science and Nature. The studies sought to understand the influence of social media on user attitudes and behaviors during the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. Key findings include: U.S. conservatives were exposed to more false news on Facebook than liberals, but removing reshared content or switching the feed to show recent posts didn’t affect user political attitudes or polarization. Criticisms have been raised about the partnership’s method, as independent researchers could not handle raw data due to user privacy protection, and the data processing was done by Meta. Despite these concerns, some researchers argue that this kind of collaboration is crucial, as big tech companies increasingly limit access to data. (Science)

Players of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 are being targeted by hackers who are spreading a worm via online game lobbies. The malware, detected on the online repository VirusTotal, spreads automatically among infected users exploiting unidentified bugs in the game. Initial awareness about the issue was raised in a Steam forum on June 26. An industry insider confirmed the presence of text strings indicating a worm, while Activision vaguely acknowledged the issue via a tweet stating that the game’s multiplayer on Steam was taken offline for investigation. The reasons behind the hacker’s actions are unclear. Although Modern Warfare 2 was released in 2009 by Activision, it still maintains a small online community, with around 600 players online at the time of reporting. Typically, game-related malware is spread through trojanized versions of game installers and cheats. Valve, which runs the Steam platform, has not commented on the issue. (Tech Crunch)

In 2017, 14-year-old Canyon Mansfield was poisoned by an M-44 cyanide bomb planted by Wildlife Services on public land near his Idaho home. The device also killed his dog, Kasey. M-44s are intended to kill predators but can harm people and pets. Canyon suffered debilitating effects for years. His family sued Wildlife Services and advocated for a nationwide public lands ban on M-44s, but lobbying by the livestock industry has stymied reform efforts. Critics say the agency is too closely tied to agricultural interests that want to maintain M-44s despite their dangers. The family continues to fight for reform so no one else is harmed. They have new hope as the Department of Interior has expressed concern over M-44 risks. Advocates believe this could finally lead to a public lands ban on the devices. (The Intercept)

Typhoon Doksuri, the most powerful storm to hit China this year, wreaked havoc in southern China, notably the Fujian province. The typhoon triggered heavy rains, strong winds, and fires, uprooted trees, and caused significant damage, including ripping off part of a stadium roof in Quanzhou. State media reports revealed that the storm affected over 724,600 people, with 124,400 people evacuated. It also resulted in economic losses of approximately $7.30 million. The storm disrupted power in over 500,000 homes, and 39 people were reported injured. Doksuri was downgraded to a severe tropical storm, but heavy rainfall was still anticipated in inland provinces. The storm had already left a trail of destruction in the Philippines and Taiwan, with casualties and widespread damage. In the Philippines, 36 people died after a ferry capsized, and in Taiwan, hundreds of thousands of homes lost power. (Reuters)

Aaliyah Ibarra’s family moved five times in four years due to unstable housing, greatly impacting her education. By second grade, Aaliyah did not know the alphabet. The pandemic forced her schooling online, but her lack of familiarity with computers and homelessness led to significant learning disruptions. Like many homeless students, her school was unaware of her situation, causing her to miss out on vital support. This lack of identification of homeless students during the pandemic resulted in loss of learning and gaps in attendance. The number of children identified as homeless by schools dropped by 21% from the 2018-2019 school year to 2020-2021, likely undercounting actual numbers. The school provided support once they were back in person, but identifying needs online was challenging. Aaliyah has made academic progress at her new school but still struggles with some aspects of reading and writing. (Associated Press)

In the Rif region of Morocco, home to the picturesque “Blue City,” locals and tourists relax and smoke kif, a blend of cannabis and tobacco. The region is well known for its centuries-long history of cannabis farming, and Morocco remains the world’s largest producer of cannabis resin. Despite the prevalence of cannabis, its recreational sale remains illegal, leading producers like Mourad*, a father of six, to clandestinely sell his products. Yet, changes are afoot. In 2021, Morocco officially legalized cannabis production for industrial, medical, and cosmetic uses in the Rif region, aiming to economically uplift one of the nation’s poorest areas. The government also established the National Regulation Agency for Cannabis Activities (ANRAC) to oversee legal cannabis production. This transition to legality is, however, facing resistance from local farmers like Mourad and Anouar, who fear loss of income due to government price setting and see the new structure as a potential threat to small-scale farmers. As of May, only about 400 farmers have begun legal cultivation. With the harvest season approaching, many in the region must choose between entering the new legal framework or maintaining their outlaw status. (Al-Jazeera)

Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.

WORDS: The Biology Guy.


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