Heroes

It looks like a takeout container, but it might be our best bet to fight Zika.

An innovative approach to battling Zika you should know about.

Soon, the solution to Zika could arrive in something as simple as a takeout box.

Image from Recode/YouTube.


For the past several years, researchers in Australia have been at work trying to develop a way to put a stop to dengue, a virus that — like Zika — is spread by way of a certain breed of mosquitoes.

The result is what's called a Mozzie Box, and Susan Desmond-Hellmann, CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, recently demonstrated how it works.

The Mozzie Box works by intentionally breeding disease carrying mosquitos, with a twist.

In the Mozzie Box, Aedes mosquitoes — the same kind that transmit diseases like Zika, dengue, yellow fever, chikungunya, and more — are bred.

And how exactly is breeding more mosquitoes the solution to a mosquito-borne illness?

The Mozzie Box mosquito eggs contain a bacteria called Wolbachia, which renders the grown mosquitoes essentially harmless (minus a few itchy bites here and there).

In other words:


GIFs from Recode/YouTube.

When the Mozzie Box mosquitoes fly off into the wild and begin mating, the Wolbachia bacteria is transmitted to their offspring.

That bacteria will then be passed down to future generations.

As time goes on, fewer mosquitoes will have the capability to carry Zika (or those other diseases), and the virus will become much less of an issue.


There are times when science can be so freaking cool, and this is definitely one of them.

The key to stopping Zika might lie in mosquito STDs. How cool is that?

But why is it so important to take steps like these? For one:

The 2016 Summer Olympics are scheduled to take place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, one of the areas hit hardest by Zika.

A number of athletes, such as Spanish basketball star Pau Gasol, have expressed concern over the virus and are considering skipping the games.

Despite the worry, the World Health Organization has advised against cancelling or moving the Olympics, writing, "Based on the current assessment of Zika virus circulating in almost 60 countries globally and 39 countries in the Americas, there is no public health justification for postponing or cancelling the games."

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images.

So even though the Olympics may go on as planned, that doesn't make the virus any less worrisome for the world as a whole.

The virus has been connected with birth defects in children and possible neurological problems in adults.

The most common concern is that mothers who contract Zika may give birth to babies with microcephaly, a condition where a baby is born with a much smaller head than expected.

A mother holds a 3-month-old girl with microcephaly. Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images.

Help from governments sometimes seems out of reach, making finding a solution in the private sector that much more important.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Tom Frieden delivered an emotional call to the U.S. Congress, pleading for them to take the threat of Zika seriously.

"Imagine that you’re standing by and you see someone drowning, and you have the ability to stop them from drowning, but you can’t," Frieden said. "Now multiply that by 1,000 or 100,000. That’s what it feels like to know how to change the course of an epidemic and not be able to do it."

Frieden speaks about the Zika crisis on May 26, 2016, in Washington, D.C. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.

Maybe Mozzie Boxes will help bring an end to Zika and other dangerous diseases. Maybe they'll inspire others to take up important innovative work. Maybe they'll help make the world a better place, now and for future generations.

There's already been so much progress in how we treat, prevent, and test for dangerous diseases. Here's hoping that such innovation continues.

You can watch Susan Desmond-Hellmann's Mozzie Box demonstration below:

Courtesy of Elaine Ahn

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Naturally, people are weighing in on the crisis, with some throwing out simplistic advice like, "Why don't you just do what people did before baby formula was invented and just breastfeed?"

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Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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