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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.”

Welcome to Medicare

Cate Kortzeborn

Cate Kortzeborn

By Cate Kortzeborn

Have you recently enrolled in Medicare, or will you in the near future?

If so, let me be the first to say, welcome! What should your first step be as a new Medicare beneficiary? I recommend taking advantage of the “Welcome to Medicare” preventive-care benefit.

During the first 12 months that you have Medicare Part B, you can get a “Welcome to Medicare” preventive visit with your doctor. This visit includes a review of your medical and social history related to your health. Your doctor will also offer education and counseling about preventive-care services, including certain disease screenings, shots, and referrals for other care, if needed.

When you make your appointment, let your doctor’s office know that you’d like to schedule your “Welcome to Medicare” visit. You pay nothing for this if your doctor or other qualified health care provider accepts Medicare payment rates.

If your doctor or other health care provider performs additional tests or services during the visit that aren’t covered under this preventive benefit, you may have to pay coinsurance, and the Part B deductible may apply.

Here’s what your doctor will do during your “Welcome to Medicare” visit:

  • Record and evaluate your medical and family history, current health conditions, and prescriptions.
  • Check your blood pressure, vision, weight, and height to get a baseline for your care.
  • Make sure you’re up-to-date with preventive services such as cancer screenings and shots.
  • Order further tests, depending on your general health and medical history.

Following the visit, your doctor will give you a plan or checklist with free screenings and preventive services that you need.

You should do a little preparation before you sit down with your doctor. Pull together your medical records, including immunization records. Even if your current physician does the visit, gather as much medical information as you can to make sure nothing is overlooked.

Try to learn as much as you can about your family’s health history before your appointment. The information will help you and your doctor understand what screenings you should get and what to watch for in the future.

And bring a list of any prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, and supplements that you currently take, how often you take them, and why.

If you’ve had Medicare Part B for longer than 12 months, you can get a yearly “Wellness” visit to develop or update a personalized plan to prevent disease or disability based on your current health and risk factors.

Medicare covers this visit once every 12 months.

Your doctor or other provider will ask you to fill out a questionnaire, called a “Health Risk Assessment,” as part of this visit. Answering these questions can help you and your provider develop a personalized prevention plan to help you stay healthy and get the most out of your visit. The questions are based on years of medical research and advice from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

When you make your appointment, let your doctor’s office know that you’d like to schedule your yearly “Wellness” visit.

Note: Your first “Wellness” visit can’t take place within 12 months of your enrollment in Part B or your “Welcome to Medicare” preventive visit. However, you don’t need to have had a “Welcome to Medicare” preventive visit to qualify for a “Wellness” visit.

As with the “Welcome” visit, you pay nothing for the yearly “Wellness” visit if your doctor or other qualified health care provider accepts Medicare payment rates.

If your doctor or other health care provider performs additional tests or services during the same visit that aren’t covered under this preventive benefit, you may have to pay coinsurance, and the Part B deductible may apply.


Cate Kortzeborn is Medicare’s acting regional administrator for Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, and the Pacific Territories. You can always get answers to your Medicare questions by calling 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).

FLOURISHING HOUSE FLIPPERS, INTERIOR DESIGNERS AT HOME ON HGTV

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.”