A bizarre invasive worm with its mouth in the middle of its belly has been found in the United States for the first time, according to new research. The New Guinea flatworm (Platydemus manokwari) is only a couple of millimeters thick but grows to be up to 2.5 inches (65 millimeters) long. As an invasive species, it’s a threat to native snails — so much so that the Invasive Species Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists it among the 100 worst invasive species in the world.

Sourced through Scoop.it from: news.yahoo.com

What insights does this provide to disease ecologists?


The ability of small invertebrates to make it pass the security checks also means that other hitchhikers like then and the hitchhikers residing on these hitchhikers could make it into the U.S.  


We traditionally maintain a high alert for obvious pathogens, like the mycobacterium species responsible for bovine tuberculosis or the ticks that can make their way in with farm animals.  


The New Guinea flatworm is now causing U.S. ecologists to be prepared for yet another disturbance in the food web and cycles.  The flatworm itself is not a health concern.   Since the 1970s, the invasive "jumping worm" from China has been a pain to U.S. fishermen; it doesn’t stay on the hook that well due to weak musculature and lack of tough skin.  


But these small organisms serve as ecological test species for those mapping the unique pedochemical, hydrologic, and climatically impacted  behaviors of these organisms as they make their way into this country.  Modeling can be done with the pre-vertebrates, to establish baselines for how to map the same environmental features once an pathogen-carrying host makes it past the security checks.  


The impacts of a mistake can be quite devastating.  Not just due to diseases, but also due to the potential these organisms have upon food and livestock security.   So the best of us who read news about a possible foreign agent coming into this country, also have public health in mind.  


Perhaps it’s time to review those older studies of diseases we’ve managed to avoid the past 50 to 75 years.  Re-emerging diseases are not just those that arise as examples produced by human pathogens.   We can get away with ignoring ecology when we study primarily human-based diseases; but when anthropozoonotic diseases become the issue, we have to convert to a more natural ecological means to perform our Medical GIS. 

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