FLORIDA zoo training FERAL CATS to protect exotic residents and visitors ~ MOUNTAIN LION report from CALIFORNIA ~ NIH scientists begin CHIKUNGUNYA VACCINE trial ~ TRAVEL WARNINGS for BRAZIL.

Florida 12/18/11 palmbeachdailynews.com: by Carolyn Susman — The next time you visit the Palm Beach Zoo, feel free to feed the ducks and the geese and to follow the roaming peacock around. But stay clear of Snuggle Cat. He’s working. Snuggle Cat is part of a unique experiment the zoo is conducting to reduce the number of feral cats that have invaded zoo property and that can pose a health threat to zoo animals. Shockingly, over the past years, there have been deaths at the zoo because of cat-borne illnesses such as toxoplasmosis that can cause fatal infections in kangaroos and wallabies. And the feline leukemia virus can threaten the health of jaguars, tigers and African servals. The problem even affected which zoo animals were brought in and how they were housed. “Decisions were made, that were big time, not to get new animals or create new exhibits,” said Dr. Michele Miller, director of conservation medicine for the zoo and a veterinarian. The problem was hard to control. “Being in the center of an urban park, we find that the feral cats wander in on their own or are dropped off,” says Miller. She says that two or three feral cats a week would show up on zoo grounds and later produce kittens. Zoo staff tried collecting the animals and relocating them to places like the Peggy Adams Animal Rescue League, but that became increasingly difficult. And it didn’t stop the ferals from invading.

About six months ago, a “team decision” was made to neuter a couple of these cats, treat them for illnesses, vaccinate them, and act toward them the way “a responsible pet owner would.” The object was to create “resident” cats that would view the zoo as their own territory and patrol it against the invasion of others, Miller explained. So far, it seems to be successful. “I do think it’s helping,” she said. “We’re not seeing other feral cats. We don’t have to deal with taking ferals where they might have to be destroyed or to be concerned that they have introduced diseases to staff or visitors.” Snuggle Cat is one of these new residents. He’s friendly, but signs are posted that caution against petting him or approaching him like a house cat. There’s always the possibility he might bite or nip a stranger. And having cats like Snuggle Cat around doesn’t slow the zoo’s strict approach to keeping its animals well.

The zoo staff works “very hard” to keep its animals healthy, Miller said, and the feral cats had presented a “very significant concern.” The zoo’s animals are vaccinated, but the shots are “not 100 percent effective.” So, removing a possible source of infection was extremely important. Miller is aware that treating feral cats this way is controversial. She knows that the trap, neuter, release approach can draw opposition — as it has in Palm Beach — because the cats can present a threat to native wildlife. Even house cats, though, can hunt for fun. Snuggle and the other patrol cats are “very well-fed” to prevent these instincts from over taking them, Miller points out, so Snuggle is often content to stretch out on the porch of the zoo’s cafe and take in the sun. “It’s an up-close and personal zoo,” Miller says with a smile. And Snuggle Cat helps it stay that way.

California 12/19/11 Altadena, Los Angeles County: Mountain lion sighting reported. See http://altadena.patch.com/articles/mountain-lion-spotted-on-lake-ave-sunday-morning
Global 12/20/11 nih.gov: News Release — An experimental vaccine to prevent chikungunya fever, a viral disease spread by certain species of mosquitoes, is being tested in a clinical trial conducted by National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) scientists at the National Institutes of Health. The vaccine was developed by researchers at the NIAID Vaccine Research Center (VRC) using non-infectious virus-like particles to prompt an immune response. The trial is testing the vaccine’s safety and ability to elicit antibodies against chikungunya virus. It will enroll 25 healthy adults aged 18 to 50 years.

Chikungunya virus infection is generally not fatal but it can cause debilitating symptoms, most often fever, headache and severe joint pain. Symptoms usually subside in a few weeks but can last for months. The first cases of illness were reported in the early 1950s in east Africa. The disease is now endemic throughout much of Africa and parts of Asia. India, for example, has reported frequent outbreaks with significant public health impact, including a 2006 outbreak that lasted eight months and resulted in 1.25 million suspected cases of illness. Global travel and trade have increased the risk that the disease will spread. A 2007 outbreak of chikungunya fever in Italy prompted concern that the virus is becoming established in non-tropical settings and could pose a worldwide threat. There is no specific treatment for the illness and no vaccine to prevent it.

Dr. Gary Nabel

“A vaccine to prevent chikungunya fever, an emerging global health concern, would address an important need,” said NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. “If successful, this approach also might be used to develop vaccines against related mosquito-borne viruses, including those that cause Western, Eastern and Venezuelan equine encephalitis.” According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, human infections with these equine viruses are rare, but, in the case of Eastern equine encephalitis, more than 30 percent of infected people die and most of the survivors suffer serious neurological complications. In 2010, scientists led by VRC Director Gary Nabel, M.D., Ph.D, reported that rhesus monkeys inoculated with the virus-like particle chikungunya vaccine 15 weeks prior to virus exposure were completely shielded from infection. Monkey blood serum containing anti-chikungunya antibodies generated by the VLP vaccine also protected immune-deficient mice from becoming infected with chikungunya virus, the scientists showed.

Travel Warnings:

Brazil 12/19/11 CDC.gov: News Release — Yellow fever is a risk for travelers to most areas of Brazil, except coastal regions. During 2009, an outbreak of yellow fever, including a number of deaths, occurred in parts of southeastern Brazil that had not been affected by yellow fever for many years. In response, the Brazil Ministry of Health has gradually expanded the list of municipalities for which yellow fever vaccination is recommended in the four southeastern states of São Paulo, Paraná, Santa Catarina, and Rio Grande do Sul.

Globally, yellow fever occurs in sub-Saharan Africa and tropical South America and is spread to people through the bite of infected mosquitoes. Symptoms can include sudden onset of fever, chills, headache, backache, nausea, and vomiting.

Currently, Brazil and CDC recommend yellow fever vaccination for travelers to the following states:

  • All areas of Acre, Amapá, Amazonas, Distrito Federal (including the capital city of Brasília), Goiás, Maranhão, Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Minas Gerais, Pará, Rondônia, Roraima, and Tocantins.
  • Other designated areas of the following states: Bahia, Paraná, Piauí, Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina, and São Paulo. Vaccination is also recommended for travelers visiting Iguassu Falls.
  • Vaccination is NOT recommended for travel to the following coastal cities: Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Salvador, Recife, and Fortaleza.

Brazil currently does not require yellow fever vaccination for entrance into the country. However, travelers are strongly urged to get the yellow fever vaccine before traveling to an area of Brazil with risk of yellow fever virus transmission.

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