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High-tech mosquitoes could combat Zika virus

Urban News Service - Oxitec male mosquitoes released from pot in Jacobina Brazil[13]By Josh Peterson, Urban News Service

Genetically modified mosquitoes could mean curtains for the Zika virus.

New U.S. cases of Zika virus infections are continually being discovered as the Food and Drug Administration looks to these high-tech mosquitos as a possible solution.

Zika’s potential to spring from mosquito “nurseries” in the American South could hammer poor minority communities as summer heats up. Atlanta has the nation’s worst mosquito problem, according to Orkin, the pest control company. Mosquitoes only need standing water to spawn.

Scientists believe Zika spreads when a female mosquito feeds off of an infected person and later bites a new victim. Harmless male mosquitoes feed on flower nectar.

Zika also can be transmitted through sexual intercourse with an infected partner. Symptoms, while rare, can last for a week and range from a mild fever to muscle and joint pain.

Concerns rocketed after last year’s discovery that Brazilian babies with unusually small skulls and brains were born to mothers who contracted the virus while pregnant. Brazil’s Zika woes continue as athletes, fans, journalists and others from around the globe prepare to converge on Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Fulton County, which includes Atlanta, is battling potential local Zika infections.

The Aedes aegypti, which lives in the Deep South, is one of several mosquitoes that scientists believe spread the virus.

Specialists with Fulton County’s Department of Health and Wellness, according to the agency, are working with Georgia’s Department of Public Health and the Atlanta-based U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to monitor outbreaks and educate the community.

“The mosquitoes that spread Zika virus will bite four or five people before they are satisfied,” said Nancy Nydam, spokeswoman for Georgia’s health department. She said people should use insect repellent, eliminate standing water around their homes and stay indoors during dawn and dusk, when mosquitos are most active.

An $85-million fund is available to states, cities and territories at risk of Zika outbreaks, the CDC announced on May 13. The money would finance Zika-prevention efforts only temporarily, said Dr. Stephen C. Redd, a director at the agency. More money from Congress is needed, he said.

The CDC reported that between January 1, 2015 and May 18, all of the 544 U.S. Zika cases are travel-associated, meaning the virus was originally contracted abroad. To date, 157 pregnant women in the U.S. have reported symptoms.

New York logged 114 travel-related cases, the highest number in America. Florida was second with 109, and California’s 44 cases put it in third. Texas was fourth, with 35 reported infections. These states all have high black and Hispanic populations, foreshadowing what this disease could do to these communities.

Among 836 Zika cases in U.S. territories, 832 were contracted locally. These include 803 infected people in Puerto Rico, 15 in the Virgin Islands, and 14 in American Samoa.

Oxitec, a British biotechnology company, is testing its genetically modified male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in Key Haven, Florida.

Oxitec’s male mosquitoes mate with wild female Aedes aegypti, producing offspring that “have a very high probability of dying before they reach adulthood,” according to its website.

Mosquitoes generally live about two weeks.

The company’s experiments “have resulted in reduction of the wild population by more than 90 percent,” said Oxitec spokesman Matthew Warren. “Existing methods to control the Aedes aegypti mosquito, such as insecticides, are only 30 to 50 percent effective, at best.”

More than 150 million Oxitec mosquitos have been released, Warren said, with no reported adverse effects.

Oxitec’s mosquitos were one possible approach within a larger program, said FDA spokeswoman Theresa Eisenman. “However, it is too early to say with any certainty whether such an approach would be successful.” The agency approves and regulates biotechnology treatments, including vaccines.

“The FDA is acting responsibly with its mosquito pilot approach, and we’re glad to see that the CDC has activated the resources to respond,” said Adolph Falcon, executive vice president for the National Alliance for Hispanic Health.

Oxitec’s solution, however, only targets one mosquito species. Also, pesticides no longer could be used against the insects, since they would kill both the dangerous female mosquitoes and the modified males.

Mosquito breeding habits show Zika disproportionately could affect poor countries and communities with inadequate sanitation.

A still-undiscovered Zika vaccine and improved sanitation would be more effective solutions, said Jaydee Hanson, senior policy analyst for the Center for Food Safety.

“People like magic,” said Hanson. “We want easy answers and we like technology. I’m a big fan of technology, but it needs to be assessed for it what it can do.”


By Ronda Racha Penrice 

Home flippers and interior designers are thriving in the rebounding real-estate sector — as seen on TV.

With an average gross profit of $55,000 per home, it’s little wonder that home flipping is attractive. Home flips — reselling properties within 12 months of purchase, usually after some renovation — were up in 83 of 110 U.S. cities, according to RealtyTrac, the leading national source of housing data. And husband-and-wife flippers Daniel and Melinda Wiafe, stars of HGTV’s Flipping the Heartland, have been getting their slice of the pie.

Flipping the Heartland, which began as Five Figure Flip in spring 2014 and currently re-airs on HGTV Canada, shows the Wiafes — with their son Malachi in tow — buying, rehabbing and selling houses in and around Tulsa, Oklahoma, where Melinda’s roots run deep. Being on TV was never a goal, however, until Daniel’s many online real-estate marketing videos caught the eyes of a production company associated with HGTV.

“They were stalking me,” says Daniel. Never imagining his ticket to HGTV was on the line, Daniel didn’t respond until the sixth or seventh call. But being on HGTV, Daniel says, has been great for business.

“If you appeared on HGTV, then people hold you more credible because that’s an authoritative badge that you can wear in your real-estate business,” says Daniel, who moved the family to Las Vegas, where year-on-year local home sales rocketed 211 percent in March, according to RealtyTrac. “It helps with dealing with real-estate partners, getting money; it helps with coaching programs teaching other people how to flip real estate.”

Inspiring others is an added bonus, notes Melinda. “It helps to see that there are African-Americans that are doing this,” she says.

“Most of the time, when you see people on TV, they’re investing in mostly West Coast places. So you’re looking at over $300,000, $400,000, up to million-dollar homes, and it doesn’t seem too realistic to the average flipper,” Melinda says. “Well, we are flipping homes that are like $80,000, and putting $50,000 in [for] rehab,” she says about Tulsa, where final flip sales average $177,735. “I heard a lot of people say ‘Wow, now that’s realistic. Those are things we can do.’ ”

With home flips, sales of new and existing homes and home renovations up, there are increased opportunities in interior design, too. And Tiffany Brooks is among the best known in her field. Ever since the married mother won HGTV Star in 2013 — seven years after she started her own interior-design firm — she has become one of the industry’s brightest stars. Today, beyond running Tiffany Brooks Interiors, the naturally charismatic Chicagoland native has been hosting the show/event HGTV Smart Home 2016. In July, the program will give away the dream home she has been beautifying. Her other HGTV shows include HGTV 2014 Smart Home Giveaway and Most Embarrassing Rooms in America.

Average annual salaries for interior designers are $48,840, the U.S. Labor Department reports. And more than 80 percent of these professionals are overwhelmingly happy, according to a 2012 Interior Design magazine survey.

Brooks, who began in high-end residential property management and entered interior design on a dare, personally knows that the expense of pursuing interior design as a career bars many people from this occupation. And, today, many states have implemented more rigorous certification requirements.

“I couldn’t afford [interior design] school because it was 80 grand,” Brooks says. “I went online, researched courses and the syllabi and ended up buying and reading through the interior-design textbooks on my own.”

Mindful of her struggles, Brooks is very supportive of efforts that help bolster African-American participation in this field, such as the Black Interior Designers Conference, scheduled from August 18 to 20 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Her best advice to new designers? “Don’t be afraid to ask somebody to be a mentor,” she says, “and actually work for that person. Be a part of their brand. See how they tick. See how they chew their food.”

“That’s the one thing that I wish I would have done differently,” Brooks says. “I made a lot of mistakes coming up, and these are mistakes I could have possibly prevented if I had looked for a mentorship program or tried to work for someone else before deciding to start up on my own.”

Don’t let the obstacles deter you, says Daniel Wiafe. “In order for anybody to be successful,” he says, “they have to be able to step outside their comfort zone and take calculated risks.”

In New York’s schools, violence is rampant, punishment is rare

By K. Barrett Bilali, Urban News Service

Osman Couey is a New York City teacher who allegedly threw Ka’Veon Wilson, a 7-year-old special-needs student, across a hallway at Harlem’s Public School 194.

Couey allegedly had manhandled his students before. There was the 2013 incident in which a parent complained that Couey grabbed her son by the ear and hurled him down a flight of stairs. He also was reprimanded three times in 2004 and 2006 for corporal punishment and verbal abuse.

But the Ka’Veon Wilson episode was different. The school’s security cameras captured this incident. That recording gave the New York Police Department enough evidence to arrest Couey.

As shocking as it is to hear of a teacher hurting a child, this alleged assault occurred in an environment in which student-on-student and student-on-teacher violence is pervasive. Few transgressions are caught on video, and others go unreported. Nonetheless, a behind-the-scenes glimpse into New York City’s government schools reveals widespread brutality, involving perpetrators and victims across many ages and sizes.

“I have seen staff provoke kids,” said one 30-year veteran Manhattan teacher, who requested anonymity. This teacher and other school professionals have experienced school violence first-hand.

In one incident, a 180-pound eighth-grader pushed her at the top of a stairwell, this teacher said. She grabbed the railing and stopped herself from tumbling down the stairs. She reported the unprovoked attack. Nothing happened.

As this instructor attempted to protect one innocent student from a tormenting elementary school classmate, the aggressive school boy caught the teacher off balance, rammed into her and kicked her, she said. A lasting scar bolsters this educator’s story.

“At the parent-teacher conference, the parent used F-bombs in front of her son but still threatened to file a lawsuit against me for allegedly abusing her son in the past,” said the teacher. “But the worst part,” she said. “There was no support from the administration.”

She said the principal and staff all told her that it was her fault that she did not know how to handle “these kids.”

To cope, keep peace and not endure violence, “Teachers find ways to appease youngsters with candy, favors, and benefits,” she said.

In another Brooklyn school, a child was reported for disrupting a class. The student was assigned to in-school detention and then threw every chair in the room. The child was just 4.

On one Bronx campus, Assistant Principal Mary Negron-Biancaniello broke both of her arms while protecting her face from a flying chair. She since has retired from Gotham’s school system.

Last month, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli released a report that criticized the city’s public schools for not reporting violent outbreaks.  The audit also found numerous “unauthorized student departures.” It sampled 10 city schools and discovered 177 cases of students leaving the premises without permission. School officials made no apparent effort to retrieve these students.

The audit also uncovered 400 unreported violent incidents. Among these, 126 involved reckless endangerment, sexual offenses, weapons possession and assaults with physical injuries.

New York City’s Department of Education is mandated to update accurately the State Education Department’s Violent and Disruptive Incident Report. Albany uses this document to calculate each campus’s School Violence Index. This determines whether a school is “persistently dangerous.”

Thirty-two schools landed on New York state’s “persistently dangerous” list in 2015. Of these, 27 (84 percent) are in New York City.

“If a school has a lot of suspensions, instead of fixing the problems, the schools try to hide them,” said Francesco Portelos, a tenured instructor and candidate for president of the United Federation of Teachers. Many teachers also are afraid to report classroom incidents because they wind up being blamed for them, Portelos said.

In one reported event in Staten Island, a male teacher was struck in the back of the head by a classroom door. Two students were suspended for this, but the teacher was written up for “poor judgement.”

Teachers do get hurt. But what about the violence that they commit?

“We don’t want to defend teachers who are hurting children, but we know what it is like to be accused of something while being innocent,” said Portelos. He said he has withstood 37 investigations in his 10 years as a Big Apple teacher. All of these allegations against him proved false.

Meanwhile, Osman Couey awaits trial for assault and acting in a manner injurious to a child under 16. A video brought his alleged violence to light. But plenty of brutality in America’s largest school system remains in the dark.