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Will dreaded yellow fever return to the southern U.S.?

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Ella Branham, a seasonal vector control technician, examines a Culex tarsalis mosquito at the Salt Lake City Mosquito Abatement District on July 19, 2023, in Salt Lake City.

It’s been more than 100 years since the mosquito-borne yellow fever virus killed tens of thousands of people in epidemics that raged across the American South and into Texas. Now scientists writing in the Oct. 19 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine warn that yellow fever could reemerge in Southern states, thanks to climate change creating suitable environments for disease-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquitoes.

There is still time to prepare for possible yellow fever outbreaks, but the U.S. needs to take action as soon as possible to prevent them, say Richard Wamai, Northeastern professor of cultures, societies and global studies, and Neil Maniar, director of Northeastern’s Master of Public Health program. “It is inevitable that yellow fever and other vector-borne diseases will continue their march here in this country, including the march from the South to the North as temperatures shift upward,” Wamai says.

“That will happen without a question. The issue is, can we implement better controls?” Combating yellow fever will take a combined approach, including vaccination, surveillance and control of mosquito populations, known as vector control, Wamai says.

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