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Vermont Scientists Find Malaria Parasite in White-tailed Deer

Posted by Jennifer Smith on

Ellen Martinsen, a 38-year-old researcher who splits her working life between the University of Vermont’s biology department and Washington, DC’s Conservation Biology Institute has found an eye-opening new discovery in Malaria research.

White-tail deer have malaria. Who or what gave it to them; and how do we keep away from the parasite? What if mosquitoes contract Malaria and pass it on to humans? All questions that have puzzled, and yet, excite scientists.

Until now, scientists believed the Plasmodium (Malaria) parasite had no native mammal hosts in the Western Hemisphere. However, we now know that the spread of the parasite may have begun with one species: birds. Over 75% of robins, including other birds like the chikadee and the cardinal, have the Plasmodium parasite in their bloodstream. The spread from birds to mosquitoes may have happened during the birds’ stressful breeding and migrating seasons, when they are most prone to spreading avian influenza. This leads to the mosquitoes passing it on to deer. Or, a deer that fed on a bird might have given the parasite to a [female] mosquito.
This is a truly amazing discovery.

Okay, I can tell you’re panicking. And, you probably have a lot of unanswered questions; but before you go into lock-down mode, breathe a sigh of relief knowing this: “Thanks to anti-parasitic drugs, the five or six species of Plasmodium that afflict humans were eradicated in the U.S. in the mid-1950s, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.” (USA Toda’s “Malaria sleuth in Vermont tracks parasite to white-tailed deer”).

Malaria is always going to be a threat to humans; but we do have both medicine and science on our side. With enough medical research and interest in Malaria studies, we can learn more about the spread of the Plasmodium parasite and its harmful effects on white-tailed deer, birds and mosquitoes.
We’ll follow-up as we learn more…