“Mosquito”, to be aired on Discovery, premiers at AFI-Doc in Washington

Mosquito”, directed by Su Rynard and written by Mark Monroe. will air on the Discovery Channel (Impact) starting July 6, but had a world premiere at the Newseum tonight in Washington DC as part of ADI Docs.

The 70-minute film presents the coming world health crisis from the explosive growth of mosquitoes in new areas, partly because of climate change.   For example, some species are spreading on high plateaus in Africa because it no longer gets cold enough to stop them.

It seems that Zika may have been endemic in Africa for years, but infected young girls and left them immune before pregnancy.  But it may have come to Brazil on ships or travel, and been introduced to Recife, Brazil, often shown in the film, at the end of 2014 for a sporting event.  The film shows women being tested in utero for potential mico encaphaly of their babies.  It is not known if babies born with normal head dimensions to Zika infected mothers will develop normally.

The film covers many of the diseases spread by mosquitoes, including dengue and West Nile Virus, which infected a woman on Long Island in 2015.  It also covers the gradual spread of more species north into the US, in sheltered areas like the Metro.

The film diagrams the mechanics of the mosquito bite, and how it cuts a channel in the skin for its blood meal and source of proteins.

The film pays particular attention to malaria in children.  Bill Gates appears and addresses this problem.  I once had a roommate in graduate school at KU who said he had gotten it in the Peace Corps and was told he should never live in a warm climate (without a seasonal winter).

The film, as well as the panel, shows the difficulties of mosquito control without affecting the balance of other species.  There was talk about community cooperation, where one person can affect the success of a whole effort (and health officials break down doors).  But modern methods emphasize surgical methods, like introducing a genetically engineered male whose offspring are born dead so the eggs cannot hatch, a kind of “Children on Men” solution.

There is a normal mosquito population in most areas, especially northern latitudes.  It is invasive species, moving north with transportation and warming climate, that destroy the balance and introduce new diseases.

In the 1980s, I recall that the religious right wanted to speculated what would happen if AIDS were to be spread by mosquitoes.  In fact, for a while, before HIV was discovered, there were rumors that it could becaused by another arbovirus, African Swine Fever, which would have been disastrous in implications politically.

It would be possible to argue that, since Zika is sometimes sexually transmitted, adults could be unwittingly infecting unborn children through a chain letter.  But the real problem is to control the mosquitoes.

Recife picture (wiki).

Kenya picture (wiki).

QA Video





Fact Table

Name: “Mosquito”
Director, writer:  Su Rynard, Mark Monroe
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Newseum, AFI-Docs, 2017/6/15, near sellout
Length:  71
Rating:  NA
Companies:  Discovery Impact
Link:  Discovery, AFI

(Posted: Thursday, June 15, 2017 at 11 PM EDT)

“Unseen Enemy” on CNN gives dire warning about future flu pandemic, while covering them all

Unseen Enemy”, directed by Janet Tobias, is a somewhat rambling but comprehensive documentary aired Friday, April 7, 2017 by CNN Films (and Vulcan), covering the major pandemics that have shocked the world in the past few decades.   The film covers more material (mainly avian flus, Sars-like diseases and HIV) than “Spillover” (March 18) but with less detail .

The film is narrated by Jeffrey Wright, and Sanjay Gupta from CNN is a major executive producer.  Soka Moses, Peter Piot, and Laurie Garrett, among many others, appear.

Near the end there is a simulation of what things look like if an avian influenza pandemic really did break out.  The film does cover the 1918 Spanish flu at the end of World War I (anticipating Ken Burns’s next documentary) and predicts that 200 million deaths and a freeze of the world economy could occur with new avian influenza.  The growth of H7N9 in southern China, where people live near poultry, is cause for alarm, but so far when H7N9 or H5N1 is transmitted from poultry to person, it doesn’t seem to continue a person-person chain.

And even seasonal flu can cause unpredictable death, as a Minnesota family recounts the loss of a teenage daughter.

The film also pays covers up front the Ebola virus, giving some case histories in West Africa, and only briefly mentioning cases coming to the US for treatment.  There is a scene late in the film where people are given “certificates” from a department of health in Sierra Leone of their recovery.   There is also a scene showing the incredible amount of protective gear and decontamination needed for health care workers.

Likewise, it covers the sudden development of the threat to unborn children from mosquito-borne Zika, starting in Brazil, although it doesn’t add much that is new.

It also lays out a progression of infectious disease: outbreak, to epidemic, to pandemic, to endemic. HIV is a good example.

The film has striking aerial photograph of many shantytowns around the world, from West Africa to Cambodia to India.  There is a history of a quarantine for an unusual disease in astern India.

The film takes the position that man’s destruction of wildlife habitat drives animals into more contact with humans, where transmission can occur.  An example is with bats, which can spread nipah, rabies and histoplasmosis, as well as Marburg, which is similar to Ebola.

The film ends with a plea to personal responsibility, in not infecting others:  not going to work when sick (presentism) and in hand sanitation in public, as people with weaker immune systems are more easily infected by others. The hashtag is “#ItTakesAllofus.

The film was followed by a brief panel discussion where Anderson Cooper quizzes Gupta, Garrett and Anthony Fauci from NIH, well known from the days of AIDS (“And the Band Played On”). Fauci said there is hope for a generic vaccine for all types of influenza with cross immunity, as this may be the only way to prevent an eventual bird flu pandemic. Significant progress was reported on vaccines for both Zika and Ebola.  The Trump administration’s plans to reduce funds to NIH could place the nation at greater pandemic risk, as would “vaccine denial”, as herd immunity is an important factor.

Vulcan link.

CNN link.

Monsters and Critics link.

The film is a World Health Day presentation.

(Posted: Saturday, April 8, 2017 at 5:45 PM EDT)


“Spillover: Zika, Ebola and Beyond” looks at the peril of pandemics spread from animals to man

Spillover: Zika, Ebola, and Beyond” (57 min) , written and directed by James Barrat (and produced by Tangled Bank Studios), accounts for the histories of three dangerous zoonoses, that is, (viral) infectious diseases that move from animals to people.  The film was shown by the DC Environmental Film Festival at the Carnegie Institute of Science and was followed by a free sandwich reception.

The overall message of the film is that viruses can spread suddenly from animals (usually mammals but sometimes birds) to man and create devastating pandemics among humans not immunologically prepared for them.

The film focuses specifically on Zika (especially in Brazil), Ebola (West Africa), and Nipah (Bangladesh). The film has spectacular digital on location photography of many remote locations, some of it aerial from drones (including many slums and poor or primitive neighborhoods), and along with some very realistic rotoscopic animation.  This could have made good material for an Imax science film at the Smithsonian.

The narrative starts in Recife, Brazil, in 2015, as mild flu-like cases of Zika show up in young adults.  Soon people realize that babies from infected women are being born with microcephaly, with brains that will not develop normally.  In time authorities learn mosquito control, even infiltrating areas with poisoned males who will cause infertile offspring to be born.   Since Zika can be sexually transmitted, it theoretically could bring back some personal ethical and political conflicts that we saw in the 1980s with HIV, as I asked in the QA (previous discussion).

The movie also switches to West Africa,, mainly Sierra Leone, showing the impact of Ebola, and noting that of the 11000 fatalities in Africa, 900 were with caregivers and health care workers, exposed directly to body fluids hitting compromised skin.  One young man walks three miles to the hospital to avoid infecting people on the bus, and survives.  A female nurse survives.  But many are buried. One person is taken off a plane in Lagos, Nigeria (shown well by drone), and dies.  Very vigorous contact tracing in Nigeria prevents the epidemic from spreading.

The film mentions new vaccines for both of these diseases.  But it also says that contact tracing is essential to control epidemics.  That sounds unrealistic to me in practice – forcing people to maintain “social distance”.  The film does not get into the cases of people treated in the U,S., which there is much better chance of survival with supportive care.  Most deaths occur from body fluid loss and subsequent organ failure.

The recent epidemic in West Africa may come from a single case of a child eating the carcass of a particular wild animal.

The film also looks at Nipah, which surfaced in Bangaldesh in 1998 and then 2004.  It causes an encephalitis that can have a high mortality rate and lead to mental retardation in children.  The reservoir may be fruit bats who feed on date palms (there is a scene of workers “shaving” palm trees with machetes to get to the sap).

Sierra Leone road similar to film.

Lagos, Nigeria

Recife, Brazil.



1       (note that H7N9 bird flu in China has increased in recent months).

2  — my question on the politics of contagion

3  — Trump budget cuts

Fact sheet:

Name: “Spillover: Zika, Ebola and Beyond”
Director, writer:  James Barrat
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1  HDEF
When and how viewed:  DC Environmental Film Festival, Carnegie Auditorium, Washington, free, 2017/3/18, free, full, reception followed
Length:  57
Rating:  NA
Companies:  PBS, Tangled Bank Studios
Link:  PBS  official (July 2016)





(Posted: Saturday, March 18, 2017 at 10 AM EDT)