American RadioWorks
Globalization and Changes in Patterns of Disease Infection

More travel, more trade — globalization certainly has its benefits. But it has its victims too, and the results can be deadly. As the global economy knits countries closer together, it becomes easier for diseases to spread through states, over borders and across oceans — and to do serious damage to vulnerable human and animal populations. American RadioWorks and NPR News present a series on this lethal side effect of globalization.

Dengue Fever Patient
A new dengue fever epidemic is raging in El Salvador, mostly hitting children. Above, a baby is treated for the fever at the country's national children's hospital.
Courtesy: Daniel Zwerdling and American RadioWorks
New Outbreak of an Old Scourge

March 17, 2001 --- In the tiny Central American country of El Salvador, doctors are fighting an ancient scourge most countries believed eradicated: mosquito-borne dengue fever, which has sickened an estimated 100,000 people over the past year just in the capital city of San Salvador alone.

Health officials believe the potentially fatal illness is caused in part by the same global forces, such as easy international travel, that the government hopes could develop the nation. The latest dengue epidemic probably came from Vietnam via Cuban workers, and then spread to nearby islands in the Caribbean, on to the South American continent and into Central America.

Researchers say the virus is also spreading so quickly because countries like El Salvador are wooing foreign companies to their cities — and the people to work in them — too fast, without providing the most basic water, sewage and garbage services to protect public health.

new outbreak of dengue fever virus Listen as Daniel Zwerdling reports on Weekend All Things Considered for NPR News and American RadioWorks.

Tires Key to Spread of Tropical Diseases in America

CDC's Paul Reiter
CDC investigator Paul Reiter examines abandoned tires — breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
Courtesy: Daniel Zwerdling and American RadioWorks
March 12, 2001 --- About 15 years ago, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention investigator Paul Reiter found himself on a dreary road in Texas — the kind of place you'd see in a movie where they dump a body in the middle of the night. The road, on the industrial fringes of Houston, was filled with trash, weeds and worn-out tires. Here Reiter had a eureka moment — and his landmark investigation mosquito investigation began.

Reiter came to Houston after he got a call that someone had discovered there what turned out to be an infamous killer mosquito from Asia. Reiter was studying the mosquitoes in some abandoned tires along the road; tires are an ideal place for mosquitoes, which prefer to breed in such dark, sheltered places. Just as it was getting dark, a truck drove up, men got out — and threw some of the tires into the truck. And an idea struck Reiter — mosquitoes were hitchhiking to America in shiploads of used tires.

Port of Houston
Researchers believe mosquitoes are hitching rides around the globe in shipping containers, like these at Houston's port.
Courtesy: Daniel Zwerdling and American RadioWorks
The discovery led to Reiter's work showing that a global trade in used tires and a shipping process called containerization were bringing mosquitoes that spread tropical diseases to America. Researchers think that could be one reason why Americans in places as different as Texas and New York are catching potentially fatal diseases like dengue fever and brain infections caused by the West Nile virus. The diseases have long histories overseas, but until recently have been essentially unheard of in the United States.

mosquitos hitch-hiking in cargo carry disease Listen as Daniel Zwerdling reports on All Things Considered for NPR News and American RadioWorks.

The West Nile Virus' Journey to America

March 5, 2001 --- But developing countries are not the only ones affected. When the West Nile virus appeared in the United States two summers ago, health officials said 59 people in the New York City area were hospitalized with the infection. Since then, federal researchers think it has made about 1,400 people sick along the Eastern seaboard alone.

How it got to the United States — where it is spreading quickly — is a puzzle with at least six pieces: jet airplanes and frogs, birds and old tires, exotic mosquitoes and a killer virus. Federal studies suggest one possible scenario: infected frogs flown into the country were bitten by exotic Asian mosquitoes that had hitchhiked from Asia to New York in a shipload of used tires. The mosquitoes then went on to bite animals and people, who in turn have fallen ill.

Listen as Daniel Zwerdling reports for NPR News and American RadioWorks. Part 1 | Part II


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention | CDC West Nile Virus Site | CDC Malaria Site | CDC Dengue Fever Site | U.S. Geological Survey West Nile Virus Site | U.S. Department of Agriculture | American Mosquito Control Association | | Texas Department of Health | World Health Organization's Infectious Diseases Site

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