Annual Accomplishments

In 2021, DVBD faced both vector-borne disease (VBD) threats and the COVID-19 pandemic. Numerous staff from DVBD volunteered to assist with CDC’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite much attention being focused on the response, DVBD accomplished many projects and milestones during the year. Here’s a look at the top accomplishments for DVBD from 2021.

Arboviral Diseases Branch

A group of people looking at a box of items

CDC and New Jersey Department of Health staff count mosquitoes.

CDC responds to new eastern equine encephalitis virus patterns in New Jersey

People can get sick with eastern equine encephalitis virus (EEEV) when an infected mosquito bites them. One way to prevent EEEV is by controlling mosquitoes. Since 1975, the New Jersey Department of Health has been using mosquito resting boxes to look for infected mosquitoes in the southern part of the state, where EEEV infections often occur. However, new evidence shows that mosquitoes are infected with EEEV in the northern part of the state. The New Jersey Department of Health started collecting mosquitoes using resting boxes to understand if they needed to update their surveillance program given the growing area where EEEV exists. To assist the New Jersey Department of Health, CDC staff visited sites with resting boxes and compared the effectiveness of different types of mosquito traps. The results of this work will inform the New Jersey Health Department about actions they can take to reduce the number of mosquitoes that spread EEEV.

CDC contributes to global strategy to eliminate yellow fever epidemics

A group of bottles and a bag

Components of the yellow fever diagnostic kit.

Many people are at an increased risk of yellow fever (YF) because of growing numbers of mosquitoes and recent large outbreaks in areas that have not seen disease cases for decades. The World Health Organization, along with key partners including CDC, is working on a multi-year effort to address and hopefully prevent YF outbreaks globally. The strategy, called Eliminate Yellow Fever Epidemics, or EYE, aims to stop YF epidemics from happening by protecting at-risk populations, preventing international spread, and containing outbreaks rapidly.

In 2021 CDC helped support the EYE strategy by

  • Providing personal protective equipment that allowed YF vaccination campaigns to continue and protect over 40 million persons despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Leading an analysis of areas at highest risk for YF disease and outbreaks to help inform vaccine allocation.
  • Building global capacity for YF diagnostics through test development, evaluation, and laboratory training.
  • Monitoring vaccine safety and offering testing for YF vaccine adverse events.

Learn more about the EYE strategy.

Bacterial Diseases Branch

Graphical user interface

Treatment and prophylaxis guidelines for plague published in MMWR

Without proper treatment, plague can lead to serious illness or death. After an exhaustive, systematic review process, DVBD’s Bacterial Diseases Branch (BDB) developed plague treatment and prophylaxis recommendations for clinicians and public health officials. These guidelines include important updates and expanded antibiotic treatment options. The recommendations can inform the treatment of patients infected with plague by naturally occurring means or in the aftermath of a bioterrorist attack.

Lyme disease training modules launched

Graphical user interface

DVBD’s Bacterial Diseases Branch released new clinician training modules for Lyme disease. This four-part series will help front-line healthcare providers recognize, diagnose, and treat Lyme disease, an increasingly common tickborne illness. Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne disease in the United States, affecting approximately 476,000 Americans every year.

Primary care clinicians, public health professionals, pharmacists, and health educators can benefit from these modules. Free Continuing Education credits are available. To register, go to CDC TRAIN.

Dengue Branch

Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends the first U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved dengue vaccine

Different colored viruses

On June 24, 2021, the ACIP voted unanimously to recommend the first FDA-approved dengue vaccine, Dengvaxia, for people 9-16 years old with laboratory-confirmed previous dengue virus infection and living in areas where dengue occurs frequently or continuously (endemic). Dengue-endemic areas include the U.S. territories of American Samoa, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and freely associated states, including the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau. Dengvaxia works against all four types of dengue virus, protecting people from hospitalization and severe dengue. DBVD staff worked with ACIP’s Dengue Vaccine Workgroup to evaluate and present vaccine efficacy, safety, and acceptability data to the committee for their vote. Vaccine implementation will begin in 2022.

CDC researchers invent chemical-free mosquito trap

A person standing next to a palm tree and a car

PRVCU and DVBD staff deploy AGO traps for mosquito control and surveillance.

DVBD scientists are working to address a critical challenge—controlling Aedes aegypti mosquitoes which spread dengue, Zika, and chikungunya viruses. DVBD researchers in Puerto Rico invented, field-tested, and have improved a mosquito trap called the Autocidal Gravid Ovitrap (AGO), which captures female mosquitoes without using chemicals. The Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer (FLC) recognized this work with the 2021 Excellence in Technology Transfer Award. This award recognizes employees of FLC member laboratories and non-laboratory staff who have accomplished outstanding work in the process of transferring federally developed technology.

These traps are being used for mosquito surveillance and control in different studies. Recently, DVBD staff and the Puerto Rico Vector Control Unit (PRVCU) began using the traps in a new project. The project is designed to determine how the spread of viruses such as dengue and Zika can be limited by reducing mosquito populations in an area to certain levels.

Rickettsial Zoonoses Branch

New video helps healthcare providers navigate rickettsial disease testing options

Graph depicting timing of PCR and IgG serology assays

CDC released a new video, Rickettsial Disease Diagnostic Testing and Interpretation for Healthcare Providers, to help healthcare providers understand the best methods for diagnosing a rickettsial disease. The 10-minute video provides a short overview of the different diagnostic assays, information on when to use each test, and a review of the most appropriate samples. A companion quick reference guide [PDF – 1 page] directly compares the pros and cons of the two most commonly available diagnostic methods: polymerase chain reaction and the indirect immunofluorescence antibody assay. The video and accompanying guide serve as quick and easy tools for healthcare providers when selecting diagnostic tests for their patients.

New Rickettsia species found in the western blacklegged tick described

Magnified image of a tick

Western blacklegged tick

RZB researchers helped characterize a new Rickettsia species called Rickettsia tillamookensis. This new, potentially pathogenic species was first isolated in 1976 from western blacklegged ticks in Tillamook County, Oregon. It took nearly 30 years using data from historical animal studies and genomic sequencing, to clarify R. tillamookensis as a novel Rickettsia species. Now that this new species has been formally described, further research can look at the distribution of this bacteria and assess its impact on human health, particularly in the western United States where western blacklegged ticks are common.

In 2020, DVBD faced both vector-borne disease (VBD) threats and the COVID-19 pandemic. Numerous staff from DVBD volunteered to assist with CDC’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite much attention being focused on the response, DVBD accomplished many projects and milestones during the year. Here’s a look at the top accomplishments for DVBD from 2020:

    • Attendees of Vector Week discussing after a presentation.

      In February, nearly 400 representatives from across the country, and many DVBD members, attended the first Vector Week in Fort Collins, Colorado. Lyle Petersen, Director of DVBD, presented a collective vision and strategy to battle VBDs nationally. Other CDC senior scientists, experts from state and local public health programs, and the Regional Centers of Excellence for Vector-Borne Disease presented on specific challenges and opportunities for VBD prevention and control.

    • Rapid detection of yellow fever is critical to preventing large scale outbreaks, yet no validated commercially-produced test previously existed. CDC scientists have been working to fill this surveillance gap by developing a kit to detect yellow fever antibodies. In April, CDC awarded a contract to ATCC, a global biological materials resource and standards organization, to produce CDC’s yellow fever virus MAC-HD kit. DVBD will continue to produce some of the raw reagents, and ATCC will format these for use in the kits, assemble them, and perform quality control for evaluation in advance of future distribution. This effort will facilitate deployment of yellow fever laboratory surveillance tools for the Eliminate Yellow Fever Epidemics Strategy.
    • A special supplement issue, titled Plague and Bioterrorism Preparedness, published in the May edition of Clinical Infectious Diseases. This issue, spearheaded by DVBD’s Bacterial Diseases Branch, presents the results of systematic literature reviews on antimicrobial treatment of plague, plague in pregnant women, and safety of antimicrobials used for treatment and prophylaxis of plague in pregnant women. The issue also includes plague surveillance and animal study data, demonstrating efficacy of antimicrobials for plague treatment and prophylaxis. These findings will inform future guidelines on treatment and prophylaxis of plague.
    • Photo of sliced grapefruit.

      On August 10, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registered nootkatone, an active ingredient discovered and developed by DVBD, for use in repellents and insecticides. Nootkatone can be found in small quantities in Alaskan yellow cedar trees and grapefruit skin and is already used extensively as a flavor ingredient. CDC’s work with licensed partner Evolva demonstrates that nootkatone effectively repels and kills mosquitoes and ticks at rates similar to products already on the market. The availability of a new and effective insecticide ingredient paves the way for manufacturers to develop nootkatone-based consumer products and adds another tool to combat insecticide-resistance.

    • Cover of the National Framework document.

      A National Public Health Framework for the Prevention and Control of Vector-Borne Diseases in Humans published in September. To address the growing threat to public health, CDC, five federal departments, and the EPA developed this joint National Framework, which details the strategic priorities of the federal government for critical activities.

    • Staff and contractors from DVBD’s Rickettsial Zoonoses Branch provided remote and on-the-ground support for an alternative Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) prevention campaign in one highly impacted tribal community. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 risk, this year’s campaign used a drive-up method to reduce in-person interactions. During the five-day campaign, 525 dogs were provided tick collars, 37 puppies treated with acaricidal spray, and 282 persons were educated. This team was awarded the CDC Health Equity Award for their work on RMSF prevention campaigns.
      Dogs in the back of a pickup truck waiting for collars.
    • DVBD staff in Puerto Rico, the Puerto Rico Vector Control Unit, and the Communities Organized to Prevent Arboviruses (COPA) project in Ponce, Puerto Rico began studies on whether mosquitoes with Wolbachia reduce the numbers of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which spread dengue, chikungunya, and Zika.
    • Numerous DVBD staff volunteered to assist CDC’s response to COVID-19. Staff assisted state health departments with epidemiologic studies and lent laboratory supplies. DVBD laboratories also used next-generation technology to sequence complete genomes of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and offered arboviral testing for state health departments. DVBD shipped nearly 18,000 pounds of much-needed PPE within CDC and to state public health partners, including 47 pallets that fit onto two tractor trailers. DVBD partners were also responding to COVID-19 around the world, for example, the Emerging Virus Research Unit at the Eijkman Institute for Molecular Biology was designated as a principal testing site for Jakarta Province, Indonesia.