News 3 Feb 2016

NY Times: Zika Infection Transmitted by Sex Reported in Texas

But sexual transmission, experts said, adds a new level of difficulty to detecting and preventing Zika outbreaks, which may require not just mosquito control but also safe-sex education. Health officials now face the prospect of stopping an infection that is usually silent and for which there are no widely available tests; it may be transmissible sexually, yet there may be no sign until a child is born.

“This opens up a whole new range of prevention issues,” said Dr. William Schaffner, chief of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical School.

Still, he cautioned that sexual transmission is probably rare compared with the viral spread by mosquitoes, taking place in more than 20 countries and territories in Latin America and the Caribbean.

“Mosquito transmission is the highway, whereas sexual transmission is the byway,” Dr. Schaffner said. “Sexual transmission cannot account for this sudden and widespread transmission of this virus.”

The Guardian (UK): Rio Olympics committee warns athletes to take precautions against Zika virus

Olympic organisers have insisted that the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro this August will not be affected by the outbreak of the Zika virus in Brazil, but also warned athletes and visitors to smother themselves in mosquito repellent to minimise the risks.

At a press conference staged the day after the World Health Organisation declared that the clusters of brain-damaged babies – linked to but not proven to be caused by the Zika virus – constituted a global health emergency, the Rio 2016 organising committee said it would follow the guidelines issued by international and local authorities, but stressed this has not so far included a travel ban.

“At the moment we have a new problem and are facing this with the help of the government and the authorities. Our priority is the health of the athletes, the health of all Brazilians and protection for all those who work at the Olympics,” said spokesman Mário Andrada. “We are sure this battle can be won and will not affect the Games.”

The buildup to the event, which will start in a little over six months on 5 August, have been overshadowed by the alarming spread of the virus. Since Zika was first identified in Brazil last April an estimated 1.5 million people in the country have been infected by the mosquito-borne disease.

Companies announce new Zika vaccine initiatives

Two vaccine makers, Sanofi Pasteur and NewLink Genetics, today announced efforts to develop vaccines against Zika virus infection that will springboard off existing technologies.

In related news, Honduras yesterday declared a national emergency over an expanding Zika virus infection outbreak, while Thailand confirmed its first locally acquired case.

The Guardian (UK): First Zika virus case contracted in US was sexually transmitted, officials say

Officials in Texas have reported the first case of Zika contracted in the US mainland, and said that the virus was sexually transmitted. If confirmed, the case would be only the second documented example of the virus being passed between humans through sexual contact.

Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the Zika infection, while Dallas County officials said they performed the “public health follow-up” to determine that the infection was sexually transmitted.

In an email to the Guardian, the CDC also warned for the first time that pregnant women or those hoping to become pregnant should “consult with their healthcare professional if their partner has had exposure to Zika virus”.

“Based on what we know now, the best way to avoid Zika virus infection is to prevent mosquito bites AND to avoid exposure to semen from someone who has been exposed to Zika virus or has been ill from Zika virus infection,” the CDC wrote. It is unclear how long the virus may linger in men’s semen after virus symptoms subside.

IBT: Zika Virus Outbreak 2016: Drugmaker Sanofi Begins Search To Develop Vaccine

French drugmaker Sanofi Pasteur has started work to develop a vaccine against the Zika virus, the company said Tuesday. Alarm over the disease is spreading throughout the Americas because of its potential link to birth defects and neurological problems, and no vaccine, cure or reliable diagnostic test for the virus exists.

Despite growing fears over the virus and its effects, developing a vaccine is a process experts have said could take years. The World Health Organization declared the Zika virus outbreak a public health emergency of international concern Monday, citing an unproved but strongly suspected link between the virus and the birth defect known as microcephaly. Director-General Margaret Chan emphasized the need for “a coordinated international response … to minimize the threat in affected countries and reduce the risk of further international spread.” She pointed to “the lack of vaccines and rapid and reliable diagnostic tests, and the absence of population immunity in newly affected countries,” as “further causes for concern.”

Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccines division of Sanofi SA, has previously worked on developing and licensing vaccines for other mosquito-borne viruses like Dengue and yellow fever — achievements the company said would speed the process of finding a vaccine for the Zika virus.

“Sanofi Pasteur is responding to the global call to action to develop a Zika vaccine, given the disease’s rapid spread and possible medical complications,” Nicholas Jackson, the research head of Sanofi Pasteur, said in a statement.


Straits Times (Singapore): Major outbreak of Zika virus unlikely in Singapore: Expert

The Zika virus will come to Singapore, but is unlikely to result in major outbreaks here in the way that dengue has, an infectious disease expert has told The Straits Times.

The virus has infected millions of people in South America, with Brazil claiming it is the reason more than 4,000 babies have been born with abnormally small heads since October last year.

But Dr Lim Poh Lian, head of the infectious diseases department at the Institute of Infectious Diseases and Epidemiology at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, said that when Zika arrives here, it is likely to have a similar effect as chikungunya.

IBT (Reuters): Florida Leads US In Ramping Up Mosquito Programs Over Zika Virus

With no specific federal guideline yet in place to control the spread of the Zika virus in the United States, some mosquito-heavy states like Florida are stepping up spraying and education programs. But the North and West have yet to boost prevention.

Only one out of the more than 30 confirmed cases of Zika in the country appears to have been transmitted locally, in Dallas, Texas. Public health officials are bracing for the time when warmer weather increases the number of mosquitoes that can transmit the virus by biting an infected person and spreading it to others.

The types of mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus, Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, are common in Florida, where mosquito season is year-round, and along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, including Houston.

Florida seems to be leading so far in intensifying efforts. Hillsborough County, located on Tampa Bay on Florida’s west coast, is paying workers overtime as it steps up spraying, mosquito monitoring, and misting in the area of the home of someone who had Zika, said Carlos Fernandes, director of county mosquito control.

News 1 Feb 2016

NY Times: Microcephaly, Spotlighted by Zika Virus, Has Long Afflicted and Mystified

The images pouring out of Brazil are haunting: struggling newborns with misshapen heads, cradled by mothers who desperately want to know whether their babies will ever walk or talk.

There are thousands of these children in Brazil, and scientists fear thousands more might come as the Zika virus leaps across Latin America and the Caribbean. But the striking deformity at the center of the epidemic, microcephaly, is not new: It has pained families across the globe and mystified experts for decades.

For parents, having a child with microcephaly can mean a life of uncertainty. The diagnosis usually comes halfway through pregnancy, if at all; the cause may never be determined — Zika virus is only suspected in the Brazilian cases, while many other factors are well documented. And no one can say what the future might hold for a particular child with microcephaly.

The Guardian (UK): Zika virus could be bigger global health threat than Ebola, say health experts

The Zika virus outbreak in Latin America could be a bigger threat to global health than the Ebola epidemic that killed more than 11,000 people in Africa.

That is the stark claim of several senior health experts ahead of an emergency meeting of the World Health Organisation on Monday which will decide whether the Zika threat – which is linked to an alarming rise in cases of foetal deformation called microcephaly – should be rated a global health crisis.

“In many ways the Zika outbreak is worse than the Ebola epidemic of 2014-15,” said Jeremy Farrar, head of the Wellcome Trust. “Most virus carriers are symptomless. It is a silent infection in a group of highly vulnerable individuals – pregnant women – that is associated with a horrible outcome for their babies.”

There is no prospect of a vaccine for Zika at present, in contrast to Ebola, for which several are now under trial. “The real problem is that trying to develop a vaccine that would have to be tested on pregnant women is a practical and ethical nightmare,” added Mike Turner, head of infection and immuno-biology at the Wellcome Trust.

Vox Views: Vaccines, drugs, and Zipf distributions

Many observers believe that pharmaceutical firms prefer to invest in drugs to treat diseases rather than vaccines. This column presents an economic rationale for why such a pattern may emerge for diseases like HIV/AIDS. The population risk of such diseases resembles a Zipf distribution, which makes the shape of the demand curve for a drug more conducive to revenue extraction than for a vaccine. Based on revenue calibrations using US data on HIV risk, the revenue from a drug is about four times greater.

NY Times: New Weapon to Fight Zika: The Mosquito

Every weekday at 7 a.m., a van drives slowly through the southeastern Brazilian city of Piracicaba carrying a precious cargo — mosquitoes. More than 100,000 of them are dumped from plastic containers out the van’s window, and they fly off to find mates.

But these are not ordinary mosquitoes. They have been genetically engineered to pass a lethal gene to their offspring, which die before they can reach adulthood. In small tests, this approach has lowered mosquito populations by 80 percent or more.

The biotech bugs could become one of the newest weapons in the perennial battle between humans and mosquitoes, which kill hundreds of thousands of people a year by transmitting malaria, dengue fever and other devastating diseases and have been called the deadliest animal in the world…

The genetically engineered Aedes aegypti mosquitoes were developed by Oxitec, a British company, to fight dengue, but would also work to curtail the spread of Zika.

Since last April, the mosquitoes have been released in one neighborhood of Piracicaba populated by about 5,000 people. By the end of 2015, there was a reduction in wild mosquito larvae — as opposed to larvae inheriting the lethal gene — of 82 percent, the company said.

Oxitec and the city said this month that they would extend the project for another year and expand it to cover an area of up to 60,000 people. Oxitec is building a new factory to rear enough mosquitoes to cover an area with 300,000 people.

The company, which was acquired last year by the American biotechnology firm Intrexon, calls its creation the “friendly Aedes aegypti” and notes that it releases only male mosquitoes, which do not bite. It says its solution is ecologically friendly because only the one species is targeted, whereas chemical spraying can affect many types of organisms.

But critics worry about the long-term effects of releasing genetically modified organisms. Oxitec has run into public opposition to a proposed test in the Florida Keys.

News 30 Jan 2016

NY Times: Tears and Bewilderment in Brazilian City Facing Zika Crisis

RECIFE, Brazil — So many distraught mothers stream into the infant ward clutching babies with abnormally small heads that the receptionist sends them outside, to see if they can find a chair to wait under the mango tree.

“There’s shade there, at least,” said Maria Helena Lopes, 66, as she greeted one young mother after another. “We’ll call you when we’re ready.”

Roziline Ferreira took three buses to get here, grasping her 3-month-old son, Arthur, all the way. Tears swelled as she looked at him, recalling how the symptoms of the Zika virus had struck her during the second month of her pregnancy. How would she ever be able to care for him, she wondered? What kind of life would he have?

“It gets me angry when someone on the bus looks at Arthur and asks, ‘What’s wrong with his head?’” Ms. Ferreira said. “I tell them, ‘Nothing’s wrong, he’s just different.’ But then I think to myself, ‘Yes, something’s wrong. My son will never be like the other boys.’”

Nature: Zika virus: Brazil’s surge in small-headed babies questioned by report

Researchers at the body responsible for monitoring birth defects in Latin America are questioning the size of an apparent surge in the number of Brazilian children born with ‘microcephaly’ — abnormally small heads and brains.

Alarm is growing about a reported rise in suspected cases of the rare condition, which has been tentatively linked to the rapid spread of the Zika virus through the Americas. But Jorge Lopez-Camelo and Ieda Maria Orioli, from the Latin American Collaborative Study of Congenital Malformations (ECLAMC), say that the surge might largely be attributed to the intense search for cases of the birth defect, and misdiagnoses, because of heightened awareness in the wake of the possible link with Zika.

This ‘awareness’ effect is well known and inevitable, they say, and must be revealing cases that would have gone unnoticed under normal circumstances. They also say that a high rate of misdiagnoses among reported cases is likely because the diagnostic criteria being used for microcephaly are broad.

Technology Review: This Is How to Stop the Zika Virus

The first is rather mundane: cell phones. Cell phones are useful because they record the movements of their owners. That data can be used to track disease hot spots and predict where they may flare up next. The technique has already been employed in Africa in the battle against malaria and in Pakistan against dengue fever—both mosquito-borne diseases like Zika.

Genetically modified mosquitoes could also have a role to play. Successful tests in the Cayman Islands and Brazil have shown that the introduction of modified male mosquitoes can cause local populations to crash. But these tests, conducted by the British firm Oxitec, have so far been on the scale of a few neighborhoods. Ramping up the process to cover all of Brazil would require a huge logistical effort to grow and distribute the modified insects.

Then there is the gene drive. This newly developed technology involves inserting genes into an organism in such a way that a trait spreads throughout a whole population. In theory, a gene drive could be created that prevents mosquitoes from incubating Zika virus—or destroys the entire species of A. aegypti. A gene drive has been created that prevents mosquitoes from harboring the malaria parasite. But some researchers are understandably concerned about intentionally messing with natural selection. Once a drive is released into a wild population, there is no turning back, and there is no telling what sort of side effects it might have.

NY Times: Vaccine for Zika Virus May Be Years Away, Disease Experts Warn

As public health officials warn that the Zika virus is swiftly spreading across the Americas, the search is on to develop a vaccine to halt the disease, which could infect as many as four million people by the end of the year and has been linked to severe birth defects.

But even as a host of companies have announced plans to develop a vaccine, disease experts say it could be years — maybe as long as a decade — before an effective product makes its way to the public. Not only are scientists still learning about the virus, which until recently was viewed as relatively benign, but any vaccine must go through rigorous testing to ensure that it is safe and effective.

“It’s very important for people to be realistic,” said Dr. Jesse Goodman, a professor of medicine and infectious disease at Georgetown University, who between 2003 and 2009 was the director of the center at the Food and Drug Administration that approves vaccines. “It is a complex process, and for Zika, it hasn’t been on the map until this exploded in Brazil.”

Researchers are not only exploring ways to develop a vaccine but are also hoping to create a rapid test that would detect the presence of the virus’s antibodies.

But for both the vaccine and test research, experts say most drug companies have been reluctant to invest in drugs or treatments for diseases in the developing world unless they see a financial reward.

Washington Post: How mosquitoes with ‘self-destruct’ genes could save us from Zika virus

Brazil is latching onto a novel, if controversial, approach to fight the spread Zika virus: genetically modified mosquitoes.

Zika virus is transmitted to humans primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species, such as Aedes aegypti, the yellow fever mosquito.

No vaccine or treatment exists to combat the infection, which public health officials are worried may be linked to a brain defect in infants and a rare neurological syndrome that could cause paralysis in adults. The World Health Organization has expressed alarm at the explosive spread of the virus in the Americas in recent months and says as many as 3 to 4 million people could become infected.

Releasing even more of these insects into the wild seems like the last thing a Zika-stricken country needs, but Brazil’s National Biosafety Committee recently approved multiple releases of genetically modified Aedes aegypti throughout the country. Essentially, the plan is to turn their own species against them.

The Guardian: Zika outbreak raises fears of rise in deaths from unsafe abortions

Campaigners are calling on Latin American governments to rethink their policies on contraception and abortion because of the spread of Zika virus, which they fear will lead to a rise in women’s deaths from unsafe abortions as well as the predicted surge in brain-damaged babies.

Several governments in the region have advised women to postpone getting pregnant for up to two years, which reproductive health groups say is impossible in countries where birth control is not easily available and many women fall pregnant through sexual violence.

“We are calling for governments to expand access to contraception, particularly for groups that have low incomes,” said Giselle Carino, deputy director of the International Planned Parenthood Federation’s (IPPF) western hemisphere region….

Illegal abortion is not uncommon in Brazil, especially for those with the
necessary financial resources. In an interview with the newspaper O Folha de São Paulo, Olímpio de Moraes, a gynaecologist and professor at Pernambuco University, said: “People with the means and the access to abortion already do so in some cases … no one ever finds out. For those who have money in Brazil, the laws are different.”

Beatriz Galli, a senior policy adviser for the women’s reproductive
rights group Ipas, argues that although federal law guarantees women’s rights to
contraceptives, in practice access is often limited. Sterilisation has
to be paid for, and health clinics rarely supply the morning-after pill, despite it
supposedly being available at no charge.

“In Brazil, it is not true to say there is totally free access to contraception for all levels of society, especially the most vulnerable,” she said.

The Guardian (UK): The Guardian view on Zika fever: panic won’t help us

Zika fever is a horror. It’s a mosquito-borne disease that is almost undetectably mild in adults but in pregnant women can cause terrible defects in their babies. There is no cure, and none in sight. We can be grateful that the mosquito species that carry the disease do not range in much of Europe, nor in most of Asia. But the fever has already crossed the Pacific from Africa to South and Central America and threatens to spread north to the USA. Like most mosquito-borne diseases it is primarily an affliction of the poor. There is nothing wrong with the taste of rich people’s blood, but they can afford running water, air conditioning and protective netting, which all cut the risk of mosquito bites. If those fail, the rich can simply move away from the areas where the disease is endemic. No one who can help it lives in a malarial marsh…

The other choice not available in this situation is safe and legal abortion. The diagnosis of microcephaly in the womb is not possible without ultrasound equipment even in countries were abortion is reasonably cheap and widely available, and it can’t be made early. What will almost certainly happen instead is a rise in neonatal mortality – infanticide by deliberate neglect or ruthless action – in all those countries where the virus rages. This is tragic and dreadful but those babies will not be saved until a reliable, cheap and easily distributed vaccine becomes available. That will not happen for years, if it ever does. In the meantime, the best defence is an attempt to eradicate the disease-bearing mosquitoes from around human settlements. It’s slow, unglamorous and not entirely effective – but it is entirely necessary. Heroic medicine makes better copy, but in the end it is public health which saves more lives.

CBS News: How far away is a Zika virus vaccine?

“It is important to understand we will not have a widely available safe and effective Zika vaccine this year and probably not in the next few years,” he said.

However, Fauci said a phase 1 clinical trial — in which researchers would test a vaccine in a small group of people to determine its safety — could get underway within the calendar year. That would be followed by additional phases of testing to prove its effectiveness and safety in a larger population.

Vaccine strategies

Fauci described two potential approaches to developing a Zika vaccine. The first is a DNA-based strategy similar to one employed in a vaccine for West Nile virus, in which a piece of the virus’s genetic structure is inserted into another harmless virus and used to create an immune response in the patient.

The second, more traditional approach would use a live attenuated vaccine in which the virus has been weakened to prompt immunity.

News 29 Jan 2016

Foreign Policy: The Zika Virus Isn’t Just an Epidemic. It’s Here to Stay

With an estimated 3 to 4 million people having come down with Zika virus ailments since infected mosquitoes reached the Americas some nine months ago, 23 countries and territories have reported cases, and there are some 4,000 babies that have been born with the skull-misshaping microcephaly, according to the World Health Organization.

“Last year, the virus was detected in the Americas, where it is now spreading explosively,” WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said in a speech Thursday to the organization’s Executive Board. “The level of alarm is extremely high.”

The race is on to stop the epidemic. On Feb. 1, health experts will meet in Geneva to decide whether the WHO should formally declare a “public health emergency of international concern,” under the agency’s International Health Regulations. Such a declaration (which the WHO delayed executing for the first nine months of the 2014 Ebola epidemic) would trigger urgent mobilization of resources, scientific research, and vaccine development.

But Marcelo Castro, the minister of health from the country hardest hit by the virus, Brazil, warns that Zika has already gone from being an epidemic to an endemic disease in his country, meaning Zika may now be a permanent feature of the nation’s ecology…

My conclusion is that public health leaders and politicians had better brace for a very long haul on Zika. The virus will hide, infecting a range of insects, perhaps monkeys, even birds. And it will return in seasonal cycles, as have other mosquito-carried viruses, such as yellow fever, West Nile virus, chikungunya, and dengue. Because so many “foreign” viruses carried by mosquitoes are now spreading across the Western Hemisphere at the same time, there will be misdiagnosis, mystery, and perhaps acute illnesses due to co-infections. Until we have an effective vaccine and have executed mammoth immunization campaigns in all of the nations of the Americas, Zika will haunt us, sicken some of us, and endanger our babies.

Toronto Star: Zika virus prompts Canadian Blood Service to refuse donations from some travellers

Canadian Blood Services will soon refuse blood donations from those who have travelled to countries where the mosquito-borne Zika virus has become widespread.
Chief medical and scientific officer Dr. Dana Devine says the blood collection agency will decide in the next few days which travel destinations would be linked to a temporary ban on donating blood.
Devine says the risk of the Zika virus being transmitted through blood transfusion is low, but Canadian Blood Services doesn’t want to take any chances.

NY Times: How the Zika Virus Is Affecting Travel

The travel industry is beginning to react as vacationers rethink their trips amid growing concern over the Zika virus, the mosquito-borne disease that experts say is possibly linked to microcephaly in babies. The spread of the virus has led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to warn pregnant women and those planning to get pregnant against travel to affected areas, including popular Caribbean tourist destinations like Puerto Rico, the United States Virgin Islands and Barbados as well as areas in Latin American countries like Mexico, Brazil and Panama.

As a result, domestic air carriers that have just finished adjusting passenger itineraries in the wake of a heavy winter storm in the Northeast are now doing so for sunnier destinations.

NY Times: Researchers Weigh Risks of Zika Spreading at Rio Olympics

RIO DE JANEIRO — With about 500,000 people expected to visit Brazil for the Olympics here this year, researchers are scrambling to figure how much of a risk the Games might pose in spreading the Zika virus around the world.

Infectious disease specialists are particularly focused on the potential for Zika to spread to the United States. As many as 200,000 Americans are expected to travel to Rio de Janeiro for the Olympics in August. When they return to the Northern Hemisphere and its summer heat, far more mosquitoes will be around to potentially transmit the virus in the United States.

Brazilian researchers believe that Zika, which has been linked to severe birth defects, came to their country during another major sports event — the 2014 World Cup — when hundreds of thousands of visitors flowed into Brazil. Virus trackers here say that the strain raging in Brazil probably came from Polynesia, where an outbreak was rattling small islands around the Pacific.

NY Times: Zika Virus ‘Spreading Explosively’ in Americas, W.H.O. Says

The World Health Organization rang a global alarm over the Zika virus on Thursday, saying the disease was “spreading explosively” in the Americas and that as many as four million people could be infected by the end of the year.

Dr. Margaret Chan, the director general of the W.H.O., said she was convening an emergency meeting on Monday to decide whether to declare a public health emergency. The move was a signal of how seriously the global health agency was treating the outbreak of the virus, which is transmitted by mosquitoes, after widespread criticism that it had allowed the last major global health crisis — Ebola — to fester for months without a coordinated, effective strategy.

“The level of alarm is extremely high,” Dr. Chan said in a speech in Geneva.

The Guardian (UK): Zika virus: Colombia warns of spike in patients with related paralysis disorder

Colombia has seen a sharp spike in the number of patients diagnosed with a rare neurological disorder that can cause paralysis among people with the Zika virus, the health minister has said.

“In the past week we have seen a substantial increase in the number of people reported with Guillain-Barré,” said health minister Alejandro Gaviria, referring to a rare syndrome that causes a person’s own immune system to damage nerve cells, leading to muscle weakness and sometimes, paralysis.

A week ago only about 15 people infected with Zika were reported with the syndrome. “I think that figure now is in the hundreds,” he said on Thursday.

Gaviria said one neurologist in the northern coastal city of Cartagena had said he would normally see three cases of Guillain-Barre (GBS) in a year. “Now he’s seeing three in one day,” Gaviria said.

The Independent (UK): Zika virus could infect four million people in the Americas – and has ‘explosive pandemic potential’

The Zika virus could infect up to four million people, the World Health Organisation has warned.

The virus, which is strongly suspected of causing birth defects including the shrinking of foetuses’ brains and heads, has the potential to become an “explosive pandemic”, WHO also said.

Marcos Espinal, head of communicable diseases at the WHO’s Americas arm, said a study would soon be published suggesting a correlation between Zika and microcephaly in Brazil.

“We don’t know yet if this virus crosses the placenta and generates or causes microcephaly. We think it plays a role. There’s no doubt about that,” he said.

It comes as Brazilian experts at Oswaldo Cruz Foundation said the virus – thought to be confined to the Aedes Aegypti mosquito in the tropics – may have already crossed over to the culex mosquito – which would increase its chances of being spreading around the world.

The culex is 20 times more common in Brazil and present in parts of Africa and Asia.There are fears Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes have been transported to Britain in the tread of tyres, where females lay their eggs in trapped water, following several sightings.

Howard Carter, one of the country’s leading bite experts, has seen the mosquitoes, which can carry the virus, on the Kent coast and in West Sussex.

He added the mosquitoes are not in the UK in “any great number”, but thinks it is “only a matter of time before that becomes the case”, suggesting global warming is creating a warmer and more attractive climate in Britain, reports the Mail Online.

Brazil has been worst hit by the virus, with around a million people thought to be infected. People travelling to the Americas are warned to cover up to protect from bites and use a repellent with PMD in it, which is effective against the Aedes Aegypti mosquito.

Three Britons have already contracted the disease after travelling to South and Central America, which was confirmed by Public Health England on Saturday.

News 26 Jan 2016

The Economist: Daily Chart: The spread of Zika virus

The spread of Zika makes attacking disease-carrying mosquitoes all the more important. Mostly, Zika is transmitted by Aedes aegypti, which is also the vector of dengue and yellow fever. This insect lives in tropical climes, but Aedes albopictus, found as far north as New York and Chicago, and in parts of southern Europe, can also do the job (though it is not clear how efficiently). A paper published last week in the Lancet shows where Zika could become endemic (see map). But places where air-conditioning, screened windows and mosquito control are the norm are unlikely to see outbreaks flare up. Researchers in America and other countries have begun work on a vaccine. Unlike the one for Ebola, though, which had been in the pipeline for a decade when the epidemic in West Africa began, a Zika vaccine is “at ground zero” says Alan Barrett of the University of Texas.

Scientific American: Zika Virus Threatens U.S. from Abroad

Exclusive: An interactive map, based on data from 50 state health departments, details how the mosquito-borne disease made its way to America in travelers’ bloodstreams.

Zika is not new to the U.S. Even as early as 2007, when the mosquito-borne disease had its first large outbreak in the Pacific island nation of Micronesia, the virus directly touched the U.S.—sickening one American traveler. Since then more than two dozen domestic cases have been reported, all from travelers who contracted Zika in more than a dozen countries around the globe. To create these exclusive maps, Scientific American launched its own investigation, gathering and analyzing information from all 50 states’ health departments, to depict a more nuanced picture of how this disease has been carried back to the U.S. via jet-setters. So far none of these cases have led to local disease transmission in the country but state health officials are bracing themselves for future such incidents.

DW: Zika virus can be sexually transmitted but ‘we shouldn’t compare it with HIV’

The Zika virus, which is currently most prevalent in Brazil, can be sexually transmitted. But that’s not an aspect experts are worried about the most, as virologist Jonas Schmidt-Chanasit tells DW.
Aedes aegypti mosquitos are seen in containers at a lab.

DW: The Zika virus is spreading to almost all countries in North- and South America. Can the virus be transmitted directly from one person to another?

Professor Jonas Schmidt-Chanasit: It is mainly transmitted through mosquitoes. The Zika virus can also be sexually transmitted, but that’s not what usually happens. One issue however is that the majority of those infected will never get ill and don’t know they’re carrying the virus. That makes the sexual transmission a little more likely.

You can’t catch Zika in the ways that Ebola spread [in western Africa]: touching or kissing an infected person or via pathogens transmitted through the air. We shouldn’t compare Zika with HIV or Ebola, so people don’t get the wrong idea and spread hysteria by saying Zika is the new HIV.
Zika is clearly a “mosquito virus.” It has adapted to mosquitoes and is usually not in contact with humans in its natural environment, the jungle. Unlike HIV, it hasn’t adapted to humans and to being transmitted from one person to another.

Huffington Post: The Zika Virus Could Force Women To Have Unsafe Abortions

BALI, Indonesia — As the Zika virus continues to cause severe birth deformities in babies whose mothers contract it throughout the Americas, El Salvador has advised women to avoid becoming pregnant for a full two years until the epidemic is eradicated. But women who are already pregnant with the disease are left with few options in a country where abortion is criminalized without exceptions.

The virus, which the Aedes aegypti mosquito transmits, is linked to the condition microcephaly, which causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads and severe developmental delays. Since Brazil confirmed the first case in May 2015, 21 other countries throughout South, Central and North America, including the United States, have since reported occurrences. Nearly 4,000 children have been born with microcephaly in the areas affected.

El Savador’s government advised women on Monday to delay getting pregnant until 2018 — an unprecedented recommendation — while Colombia, Jamaica and Ecuador called for shorter delays.

The problem in El Salvador’s case is that women who are already pregnant and contract the virus are still subject to the nation’s complete ban on abortion, which has already put dozens of women behind bars for murder. Health workers worry the law could drive many desperate women infected with Zika to seek dangerous, back-alley procedures.

Reuters: Travel industry faces growing concern over Zika virus

Airlines, hotels and cruise operators serving Latin America and the Caribbean are facing growing concern among travelers who had planned to visit countries potentially affected by Zika after the World Health Organization warned the virus is likely to spread to most of the Americas.

The outbreak of the mosquito-borne virus, which has been linked to brain damage in thousands of babies in Brazil, comes as a record percentage of Americans plan a vacation in coming months and a near-record proportion of them look to travel abroad with a strong U.S. dollar making overseas destinations more affordable.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (@CDCgov), which has used Twitter as a platform to discuss the virus, warned travelers to “consider postponing travel to areas w/ ongoing Zika transmission.”

Canada and Chile are the only countries in the Americas the virus is not expected to reach, the WHO said on Monday.

United Airlines said it was allowing customers who had reserved tickets for travel to Zika-impacted regions to postpone their trips or obtain refunds with no penalty.

Norwegian Cruise Lines and rival Carnival Corp said they would allow expectant mothers covered by the CDC advisories to reschedule cruises to a later date or switch to an itinerary outside the affected countries.

But some Twitter users lamented their ruined vacations and their inability to get a refund from tourism operators.

Daily Beast Time for Americans to Worry About Zika Virus?

In the weeks ahead one thing is certain: many, many more people in the US will be diagnosed with Zika virus. This is because doctors will be testing more and Zika, which is asymptomatic in 80 percent of those infected, surely will be found. But as long as all the cases are imported, as is currently the situation, the fear factor in the U.S. should remain quite low.
However, if and when we enter into autochthonous transmission, things could get very ugly, very fast. There appears to be almost no native immunity—meaning that epidemics affecting millions, as is occurring in Brazil, would happen here. Therefore our main protection right now, as we wait once again for a vaccine to come along, is not shots or antivirals or magic pills—but mosquito control. This is the same challenge that the U.S. met successfully after World War Two when malaria was driven out of the U.S. South.
Hopefully we will coordinate efforts against Zika virus and the Aedes mosquitos in the same purposeful, non-politically distorted manner.

The Guardian: Zika virus by the numbers: travel advisories issued across the world

The virus has spread to places it has never been detected before, prompting governments to issue travel warnings – especially for pregnant women

Reuters: 19 Zika Virus Cases In Puerto Rico: officials

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO: The mosquito-borne Zika virus has now been found in 19 people in Puerto Rico, although none were pregnant women, the group most at risk, the island’s health secretary said.

The virus has been linked to a surge in births of babies with abnormally small heads, and pregnant women have been advised not to travel to Latin American and Caribbean countries because of the virus.

“An infected person must have come, who infected a population of mosquitos, which in turn infected a local population, permitting the spread of the disease,” Puerto Rico’s Health Secretary Ana Rius said.

NY Times: Brazil Will Deploy Troops to Spread Awareness of Zika Virus

RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazil’s government has decided to deploy 220,000 troops for a day next month to spread awareness about the Zika virus, which has been linked to severe birth defects in thousands of infants.

The move came as Brazil’s top health official acknowledged that the country was “badly losing the battle” against mosquito-borne diseases like Zika.

Marcelo Castro, the country’s health minister, disclosed the troop mobilization in an interview with the newspaper O Globo, and said he expected it to occur on Feb. 13. A spokeswoman for the Health Ministry later clarified that the troop deployment was expected to last only a day, largely involving personnel from different branches of the armed forces going door-to-door handing out pamphlets.

News 25 Jan 2016

NY Times: El Salvador’s Advice on Zika: Don’t Have Babies

SAN SALVADOR — When in human history has an epidemic become so alarming that a nation feels compelled to urge its people not to have children for two years?

Grappling with a mosquito-borne virus linked to brain damage in infants, El Salvador is doing just that, advising all women in the country not to get pregnant until 2018 — the equivalent of a Hail Mary pass that, to many here, only illustrates their government’s desperation.

“It’s not up to the government; it’s up to God,” said Vanessa Iraheta, 30, who is seven months pregnant with her second child. “I don’t think the youth will stop having children.”

The virus, known as Zika, has rattled Latin America and the Caribbean, particularly Brazil, where more than a million people have been infected and nearly 4,000 children have been born with microcephaly, a rare condition in which babies have unusually small heads.

Other nations around the region have issued warnings similar to El Salvador’s, with officials in Colombia and Ecuador urging women to put off becoming pregnant for months, or until the dangers of the virus are better understood.

NY Times: Two Cases Suggest Zika Virus Could Be Spread Through Sex

Zika virus has already been linked to brain damage in babies and paralysis in adults. Now scientists are facing another ominous possibility: that on rare occasions, the virus might be transmitted through sex.

The evidence is very slim; only a couple of cases have been described in medical literature. But a few experts feel the prospect is disturbing enough that federal health officials should inform all travelers, not just pregnant women, of the potential danger.

Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, however, say the evidence is insufficient to warrant such a warning. While the two instances suggest a “theoretical risk” of sexual transmission, they note the primary vector is clearly mosquitoes.

Dr. Márcio Nehab, a pediatrician and infectious disease specialist at Fiocruz, a research institute in Rio de Janeiro, said that much more research was needed to be done to definitively prove that Zika can be transmitted during sex.

Washington Post: Zika virus outbreak will likely spread across Americas, WHO says

Global health authorities are warning that the Zika virus is predicted to spread through South, Central and North America and will likely reach all countries and territories where the Aedes mosquitoes are found.

Since Brazil reported the first case of local transmission last year, the mosquito-borne disease has spread to 21 countries and territories of the Americas, the World Health Organization said in a statement. At least a dozen cases have been confirmed in the United States by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

WHO’s regional office for the Americas said there are two main reasons for the “rapid spread.”

“The population of the Americas had not previously been exposed to Zika and therefore lacks immunity,” the U.N. health agency said in the statement. The WHO added that “Aedes mosquitoes — the main vector for Zika transmission — are present in all the region’s countries except Canada and continental Chile.”

The Independent (UK): Zika virus: Pregnant women warned to stay away from Rio 2016 Olympics

Women who think they may be pregnant in the weeks before travelling to the Olympics in Brazil later this year should consider abandoning their trip because of the risks posed by the Zika virus to their unborn child, a senior scientist has warned.

An epidemic in Brazil of a congenital birth defect known as microcephaly, when the brain of the foetus fails to grow normally, is probably linked to the recent introduction and widespread transmission of the mosquito-borne Zika virus, said Laura Rodrigues, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

“It is an unprecedented epidemic of microcephaly,” Professor Rodrigues said. “It has never happened before and it was probably caused by congenital infections of Zika virus, caused by pregnant women getting infected and the virus going to the baby’s brain.” It is not known how the Zika virus might cause microcephaly in the womb but it is likely to result from an infection of the developing foetal brain in the first three months, and possibly first few weeks, of pregnancy, said Professor Rodrigues, who is investigating the outbreak in Brazil.

The Guardian (UK): City at centre of Brazil’s Zika epidemic reeling from disease’s insidious effects

With her three-month-old baby nestling in her arms, Gleyse Kelly recalled how overjoyed she was when the doctor told her that after three boys, her fourth child would be a girl.

But in the seventh month of her pregnancy, the ultrasound showed that the girl’s head was not developing properly. In the report accompanying the images, her doctor had scribbled the word: “Microcephaly?”

“I’d never even heard of it before,” said the 27-year-old toll-booth attendant who lives in Recife, in the state of Pernambuco. “On the internet, it said she wouldn’t be able to walk or talk. I was terrified.”

After weeks of uncertainty, and further inconclusive ultrasounds, on 16 October her obstetrician finally confirmed the diagnosis.

“It was devastating,” she said. “But we had no time to react.”

The next day her daughter, Maria Giovanna, was born. So far, she has proven a healthy baby, who eats well, sleeps well and reacts to visual and audio stimuli. “She is just like any other child,” Ms Kelly says. “It’s just that she has a small head.”

It was only after her birth that doctors mentioned a possible link between her condition and the Zika virus, a disease first registered in north-east Brazil in May 2015.

The Guardian (UK): Bill McKibben: The Zika virus foreshadows our dystopian climate future

I’ve spent much of my life chronicling the ongoing tragedies stemming from global warming: the floods and droughts and storms, the failed harvests and forced migrations. But no single item on the list seems any more horrible than the emerging news from South America about the newly prominent Zika disease.

Spread by mosquitoes whose range inexorably expands as the climate warms, Zika causes mild flu-like symptoms. But pregnant women bitten by the wrong mosquito are liable to give birth to babies with shrunken heads. Brazil last year recorded 4,000 cases of this “microcephaly”. As of today, authorities in Brazil, Colombia, Jamaica, El Salvador and Venezuela were urging women to avoid getting pregnant.

Think about that. Women should avoid the most essential and beautiful of human tasks. It is unthinkable. Or rather, it is something out of a science fiction story, the absolute core of a dystopian future. “It is recommended that women postpone – to the extent possible – the decision to become pregnant until the country can move out of the epidemic phase of the Zika virus,” the Colombian health authorities said, adding that those living in low altitude areas should move higher if possible, out of the easy range of mosquitoes.

Now think about the women who are already pregnant, and who will spend the next months in a quiet panic about whether their lives will be turned upside down. Try to imagine what that feels like – the anger, the guilt, the pervasive anxiety at the moment when you most want to be calm and serene.

And now think about the larger, less intimate consequences: this is one more step in the division of the world into relative safe and dangerous zones, an emerging epidemiological apartheid. The CDC has already told those Americans thinking of becoming pregnant to avoid travel to 20 Latin American and Caribbean nations.

News 24 Jan 2016

Raw Story (Reuters): US adds more countries to Zika virus travel alert

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) extended its travel warning to another eight countries or territories that pose a risk of infection with Zika, a mosquito-borne virus spreading through the Caribbean and Latin America.

Friday’s warning adds Barbados, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guadeloupe, Guyana, Cape Verde, Samoa and the island of Saint Martin to a list of 14 countries and territories.

The CDC has cautioned pregnant women not to travel to these areas as Zika has been suspected to lead to birth defects…

The agency issued an advisory last week against travel to Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela, and the U.S. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

Channel News Asia: Singapore authorities closely monitoring Zika virus: Amy Khor

SINGAPORE: Authorities in Singapore are closely monitoring the Zika virus, which is spreading throughout Central and South America, said Dr Amy Khor on Sunday (Jan 24).

During a visit to nurseries along Thomson Road, the Senior Minister of State for Health added that no cases have been detected in Singapore yet. However, medical experts have said that the Republic is “extremely vulnerable” to the virus.

“Singapore is vulnerable to the virus simply because Singaporeans travel a lot to the region, and of course there are also tourists here,” said Dr Khor.

She added that while there have been no cases of Zika diagnosed in Singapore so far, the National Environment Agency (NEA) and the Ministry of Health (MOH) did not rule out the possibility that there could be undetected cases since the symptoms of the virus are often mild, with some affected persons showing no symptoms at all.

In a statement on Sunday, MOH also said that it is “actively considering” precautionary measures against the virus. It added that NEA has stepped up its ongoing surveillance programme for the virus.

Quartz: This is how Brazil plans to deal with the Zika virus during the Olympics

Rio de Janeiro is just months away from hosting the 2016 Summer Olympics as Brazil deals with a terrifying epidemic of the Zika virus, which has been linked with shrinking babies’ brains. In 2015, as many as 1.5 million cases were registered in the country (paywall)—and the disease is spreading fast around the world.
Brazil’s Ministry of Health now has announced its anti-Zika plans to calm the fears of the thousands of athletes and tourists who are expected in the city in August.
Counting on the fact that August is a drier month in Brazil and the population of the mosquito that spreads the disease should be lower than it is currently, the authorities say inspections for mosquito presence will begin four months before the Olympics. Daily sweeps will be performed during the games. Fumigation, however, will only be used in extreme cases, to avoid health issues for athletes and audiences.
Meanwhile, Brazilian authorities will have a trial run as they face the threat of further Zika outbreaks during next month’s important Rio carnival.

The Guardian: Zika virus may be linked to rare nerve condition

Two Latin American countries are investigating whether outbreaks of the mosquito-borne Zika virus are behind a rise in a rare and sometimes life-threatening nerve condition that can cause paralysis and leave victims on life-support.

Anyone of any age can get Guillain-Barré, although it is very rare. It is thought to be triggered by an infection — something as simple as food poisoning — and happens when the immune system attacks the body’s own nervous system.

The link between the two conditions was first noticed in French Polynesia, where health officials noted a jump Guillain-Barre and microcephaly cases in tandem with an outbreak of Zika.

The World Health Organization said on Friday that authorities in El Salvador reported 46 cases of Guillain-Barre in just five weeks, from 1 December to 6 January Dec. 1 to Jan. 6. The full-year average for the country is 169 cases. Of 22 patients for whom there was information, at least 12 had experienced a rash-fever illness in the 15 days prior.