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September 6, 2017: Zika Virus Used to Treat Aggressive Brain Cancer

A harmful virus that can cause devastating brain damage in babies could offer up a surprising new treatment for adult brain cancer, according to US scientists.

Until now, Zika has been seen only as a global health threat – not a remedy.
But latest research shows the virus can selectively infect and kill hard-to-treat cancerous cells in adult brains.

Zika injections shrank aggressive tumours in fully grown mice, yet left other brain cells unscathed.

Human trials are still a way off, but experts believe Zika virus could potentially be injected into the brain at the same time as surgery to remove life-threatening tumours, the Journal of Experimental Medicine reports.

The virus would need to be delivered directly to where it is needed in the brain
There are many different types of brain cancer. Glioblastomas are the most common in adults and one of the trickiest to treat.

They are fast growing and diffuse, meaning they spread through the brain, making it difficult to see where the tumour ends and the healthy tissue begins.

Radiotherapy, chemotherapy and surgery may not be enough to remove these invasive cancers.

But the latest research, in living mice and donated human brain tissue samples, shows Zika therapy can kill cells that tend to be resistant to current treatments.

It is thought that these glioblastoma stem cells continue to grow and divide, producing new tumour cells even after aggressive medical treatment.

Different, healthy stem cells are found in abundance in baby brains, which probably explains why regular Zika can be so damaging to infants, say the researchers.

Adult brains, however, have very few stem cells. This means Zika treatment should destroy only the cancer-causing brain stem cells without causing much collateral damage.

As an extra safety precaution, the team, from Washington University School of Medicine and the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, have already begun modifying the virus to make it more tame than regular Zika.

Researcher Dr Michael Diamond said: "Once we add a few more changes, I think it’s going to be impossible for the virus to overcome them and cause disease.

“It looks like there’s a silver lining to Zika. This virus that targets cells that are very important for brain growth in babies, we could use that now to target growing tumours.”
He hopes to begin human trials within 18 months.

Using viruses to fight cancer is not a new idea, but using Zika as the weapon of choice is.
UK scientists at the University of Cambridge are beginning similar trials with Zika.

Dr Catherine Pickworth, from Cancer Research UK, said: "This promising research shows that a modified version of the Zika virus can attack brain tumour cells in the lab.
“This could one day lead to new treatments for this particularly hard to treat type of cancer.”

Source: BBC News

August 29, 2017: Hurricane Harvey Could Cause Increase in Zika Infections, Say Experts

Hurricane Harvey could ignite a surge in mosquitos capable of spreading Zika in southeast Texas, public health experts warned even as the storm was lashing the Gulf Coast over the weekend.

In the short term the storm will actually be a boon, flooding out mosquitos. But the standing water Harvey will leave behind will become their perfect breeding ground, including for Aedes aegypti mosquitos blamed for spreading the disease.

Officials are urging those returning to their homes after the storm to dump flower pots, bird baths and other containers with standing water.

“It’s been a significant part of our messaging for Zika all along and definitely will be something we’re talking about following Harvey,” said Chris Van Deusen, spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services.

The U.S. has enjoyed a relatively Zika-free year in 2017, with just a single case of the disease being spread locally by mosquito. That case came in Hidalgo County, along the border with Mexico.

Tamaulipas, the Mexican state on the other side of the boundary from Hidalgo Country, is one of three hard-hit states in Mexico where the number of Zika cases has risen this year.

Source: The Washington Times

August 14, 2017: ASU Researcher Says He’s Developed Tobacco-Based Zika Virus Vaccine

A researcher at Arizona State University said Thursday that he has developed a tobacco plant-based vaccine for Zika virus.

Qiang Chen said the creation of the vaccine was a fairly simple process.

“I use a small part of DNA from the Zika protein [then] I put that DNA into tobacco plants,” he said. “That piece of unique DNA will direct the production of the vaccine protein.”

Once enough vaccine material is produced, it is removed from the leaf.

Chen said the tobacco-based vaccine has benefits over traditional vaccines.

“Most vaccines are based on either DNA or killed full viruses,” he said. “[For example], if you use killed virus as a vaccine – if you have an accident, potentially, you can inoculate live virus into people.”

Another issue with full-copy DNA vaccination production for Zika is called the enhancement response. Chen said the virus is very genetically similar to dengue fever.

Because it is so similar, in certain circumstances, a full-virus replica of Zika could not only stimulate an immune response for that virus, but also an immune response for dengue fever.

Chen said he chose to develop the vaccine in tobacco plants because it is simple to direct foreign proteins into them.

“Tobacco plants can grow very fast, very easily,” he said. “[They] produce a lot of leaves for vaccine production. Tobacco plants also produce a lot of seeds, so if you want to scale up production you can quickly get a large number of seeds.”

Chen’s vaccine has been successfully tested in mice and monkeys, meaning his team can apply for human clinical trials through the Food and Drug Administration.

The Centers for Disease Control said Zika – spread by infected mosquitoes – can cause underdevelopment of human infants’ heads, or microcephaly, before they’re born.

Source: KTAR News

August 11, 2017: Florida Reports Dozen More Zika Cases

Florida health officials added another 12 reported cases of the Zika virus during the past week, including the first sexually transmitted case in 2017, according to information posted on the state Department of Health website.

As of Monday morning, August 7, 2017, the state had 128 reported Zika infections this year, up from 116 reported a week earlier. Of the new total, 97 were classified as “travel related” — meaning people brought the mosquito-borne virus into Florida after being infected elsewhere — up from 88 the previous Monday.

During the past week, the Department of Health announced that a person in Pinellas County had been infected with Zika through sexual transmission. The department did not identify the person or list the person’s gender but indicated a sexual partner might have contracted the disease while traveling recently to Cuba.

The department said it does not have evidence that mosquitoes are transmitting the disease in Florida. Other cases reported this year have involved people who were exposed in 2016 and tested in 2017.

Zika is particularly dangerous to pregnant women because it can lead to severe birth defects.

Source: WUSF News

August 3, 2017: First Sexually Transmitted Zika Case of 2017 Confirmed in Pinellas County

Florida has confirmed its first sexually transmitted case of Zika for this year, health officials said.

The Florida Department of Health announced in a statement Tuesday that the case was reported in Pinellas County. A resident’s partner showed symptoms of infection by Zika, a frequently mosquito-borne virus, after a recent trip to Cuba. Both people tested positive for Zika.

“There is no evidence of ongoing transmission of Zika by mosquitoes in any area of Florida,” the department said. “It is important to remember Zika can also be transmitted sexually and to take precautions if you or your partner traveled to an area where Zika is active.”

There have been 118 Zika cases reported in Florida this year, with the majority linked to travel outside the continental United States. The locally acquired infections confirmed this year were all linked to exposure to the virus in 2016, according to the Florida Department of Health.

Zika is most commonly transmitted via infected mosquitoes; documented cases of transmission through sexual contact have been rare. Infection usually results in minor symptoms, including fever, rash, joint pain and pinkeye. However, if a woman is infected by Zika during pregnancy, the virus can cause devastating birth defects, including microcephaly.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that men diagnosed with a Zika infection wait at least six months before having unprotected sex with a female partner so that they do not infect her. Infected men who have a pregnant partner are advised to wear barrier contraception for the duration of the pregnancy.

The Food and Drug Administration does not routinely test donated sperm for Zika, but it forbids anonymous donations within six months of being diagnosed with Zika infection, traveling to an affected area or having sex with someone who may have been infected.

Source: FOX News

July 20, 2017: Scientists Plan to Trick Zika-Carrying Mosquitoes into Breeding Themselves Out of Existence

This summer, a Silicon Valley tech company will have millions of machine-raised, bacteria-infected mosquitoes packed into windowless white vans, driven inland and released into the wild — or, at least, the streets of Fresno, Calif.

And, yes, Fresno County officials are encouraging this.

It’s all part of the Debug Fresno project, which aims to cut down on the number of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, an unwelcome invasive species that arrived in California’s Central Valley in 2013. In addition to being potential carriers of the Zika, dengue fever and chikungunya viruses, the Aedes aegypti also adapted rapidly to the area’s residential neighborhoods, to the chagrin of residents and officials alike.

“It’s a terrible nuisance, a terrible biting nuisance. It’s changed the way people can enjoy their back yard and it’s a threat for disease transmission,” said Steve Mulligan, district manager for the region’s Consolidated Mosquito Abatement District. “So we’re looking for new ways to eliminate it.”

To do so, district officials have partnered with tech companies to use an approach that has gained traction in recent years. Inside a lab, millions of the mosquitoes will be infected with Wolbachia bacteria, which changes the reproductive ability of males. Afterward, only those male mosquitoes — which don’t bite — will be released to mate with unsuspecting female Aedes aegypti.

Even if the females lay eggs, those eggs will never hatch. Eventually, officials hope to reduce the population of Aedes aegypti, generation by generation, until they are eliminated from the area.

“It’s kind of contrary to what a person would think. ‘What, you’re doing what? You’re releasing mosquitoes to control mosquitoes?’ " Mulligan said. “We are releasing male mosquitoes because male mosquitoes do not bite and cannot transmit disease.”

If all this sounds like the opening of a sci-fi movie, that’s because the endeavor represents a cross-section of the health-care and technology industries. The “Debug Fresno” project is a continuation of a similar strategy that started last summer, when county officials partnered with Kentucky-based MosquitoMate to release 40,000 Wolbachia-infected male mosquitoes each week in Fresno County.

This year’s mosquitoes are being bred and distributed by Verily, a subsidiary of Alphabet that was formerly known as Google Life Sciences. Verily officials estimate that this year, they will release 1 million mosquitoes per week in Fresno County, more than 25 times last summer’s numbers. That is possible because they’ve developed ways to breed and separate male and female mosquitoes on a larger scale.

“Automated sex-sorting is a key advancement for this research,” Verily spokeswoman Kathleen Parkes said in an email. “Traditionally, mosquito sex-sorting is a very labor-intensive process. Verily has developed a system that uses computer vision algorithms to identify the sex of the mosquitoes and only let the males through.”

Unlike last year, when officials simply opened up cardboard tubes of mosquitoes at fixed points in the county, this year long white vans — emblazoned with the “Debug Fresno” logo — will drive through two neighborhoods in the cities of Fresno and Clovis to make sure the mosquitoes are evenly distributed. Verily officials anticipate that up to 20 million male mosquitoes could be released between now and the fall.

Mulligan said they don’t anticipate eliminating Aedes aegypti would have any negative effects on flora and fauna there because the invasive species is not an essential part of the natural ecosystem in Fresno County.

“Invasive species disrupt and impact the environments into which they invade,” Mulligan said. “We do not expect that reducing or eliminating the populations of Aedes aegypti would have any negative effect on the environment, nor would it harm any insect-eating animals. In fact, the eradication of Aedes aegypti from California would actually have a positive effect on the human environment and on human health.”

Scientists have studied ways to use Wolbachia bacteria to control mosquito populations since the 1980s, but a number of successful field tests have shown its effectiveness in recent years. In 2011, Australian researchers released batches of Wolbachia-infected female mosquitoes around two neighborhoods near Cairns, Queensland, and then monitored the mosquito populations there.

Their goal then had been to stop the spread of the dengue virus — “Wolbachia completely blocks the ability of dengue virus to grow in the mosquito,” Monash University researcher Scott O’Neill explained to The Washington Post’s Brian Vastag — and they found that that strain of Wolbachia had been successful in spreading through 100 percent of the population in one Cairns neighborhood and 90 percent in the other.

As Vastag reported at the time:

That’s because the bacterium is a cunning manipulator of insect reproduction. Somehow — scientists are unsure exactly how — females carrying Wolbachia reproduce more successfully than females that don’t carry it. This evolutionary strategy has been so successful that various strains of Wolbachia infect an estimated 70 percent of all insect species.

Strikingly, though, this evolutionary marvel does not naturally infect the species of mosquito that carries dengue virus, [Aedes aegypti].

So O’Neill and his colleagues set about finding a strain of Wolbachia that could infect Aedes aegypti while simultaneously protecting against dengue virus. They found that strain in their own back yard, inside Australian fruit flies.

An approach closer to the one being tried in Fresno this year was carried out last summer in southern China, where scientists released millions of Wolbachia-infected male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes on Shazai Island in an effort to stem the spread of the Zika virus. As The Post’s May-Ying Lam reported, results were “stunning,” with 99 percent of the population suppressed after a year of tests.

Though there have been no local infections of Zika or dengue reported in California, Mulligan said they want to be prepared in case someone travels back from a country where they were infected. An Aedes aegypti mosquito could easily spread the virus from one person to another, as happened in Florida and parts of Texas last year, he said.

In a video produced to educate Fresno County residents about the project, Jodi Holeman, a director with the region’s mosquito abatement district, agreed.

“Even though they’re not actively and currently transmitting disease in California, it’s our job to try to stay ahead of these diseases,” she said.

Source: The Washington Post

July 11, 2017: The South Texas Diabetes & Obesity Institute is Using Opossums for Zika Research

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley has over one thousand opossums on campus, but this isn’t a pest control problem.

The South Texas Diabetes & Obesity Institute is using the rodent for research that could greatly impact the Rio Grande Valley.

“The intent is to prevent the disease altogether so we don’t ever have to worry about treating them,” John VandeBerg, a professor at the South Texas Diabetes & Obesity Institute.

VandeBerg is collaborating with the UTRGV Department of Biology in developing the laboratory opossum as a model for research on the Zika virus.

“I developed these opossums as a laboratory animal in part because the babies are born at the stage of a six week human embryo so the equivalent stage of a human embryo is six weeks gestation,” VandeBerg said.

Because of the similarity, opossum fetuses can be manipulated experimentally.

“We inoculate these embryos and fetuses with Zika virus and we can study the developmental abnormalities as they develop in the embryos,” he said in an interview with News Center 23’s Marlane Rodriguez.

The possums are not only used for Zika research.

“Another one of our projects involves the control of blood cholesterol when the animals are fed a human like diet,” he said at a laboratory at the UTRGV campus in Brownsville.

The gray short-tailed opossum, native to South America, has the same amount of fat and cholesterol as a North American human diet.

“We’re identifying specific genes that control the ability to prevent blood cholesterol from becoming elevated as we identify these genes they can become targets for therapies in reducing blood cholesterol in susceptible people,” Vandeberg said.

Recent results show that opossums that are infected early in life can develop characteristics that resemble human newborns whose mothers were infected with Zika virus during pregnancy.

Source: RGVproud

July 10, 2017: Miami Sprays Yet Again to Combat Zika

Ground spraying for mosquitoes carrying the Zika Virus will take place this week in Miami-Dade County.

This comes as a new study by Florida International University shows Wynwood businesses lost as much as 40 percent in revenue from last year’s outbreak.

As Miami-Dade prepares to spray Naled this coming week in their fight against the mosquitoes and Zika, new study documents the negative impact Zika had on the Wynwood.

A new study released by FIU’s College of Public Health & Social Work found that last year’s Zika outbreak hit the bottom line of Wynwood businesses.

Some reported losing as much as 40 percent of revenue.

“When Zika was first reported in the area it was like a ghost town,” said Tina Brady with Walt Grace. “I was waiting for Zombies to walk through. A lot of the businesses suffered.”

This business says while they saw the impact of Zika, they have an online presence and that helped them keep their doors open.

The study found that despite declines in revenue few businesses changed their prices, inventories or staff levels.

So far this year, Florida health officials have confirmed 29 travel-related Zika cases in Miami-Dade County but no local infections.

Statewide, health officials have confirmed 72.

Some tourists have no idea there were cases reported in Wynwood, with one saying it wouldn’t affect her decision to visit the area.

“I’m not looking to get pregnant and I don’t feel like [Zika is] something, unless you’re trying to get pregnant, is going to affect you,” said Tisha Dominguez, visiting from Jacksonville.

As rainy season returns to South Florida, public health and medical authorities are being strategic in preventing and responding to outbreaks, with more Naled spraying scheduled from July 11th to the 13th.

This as a Miami Beach Drive files for injunction to stop the spraying, saying Naled is too risky and not enough is known about its potential health effects.

Tourists don’t seem to be too worried about any of this and as for the injunction, a status conference on the complaint is scheduled for July 12th.

July 5, 2017: Mosquitoes That Can Transmit Zika Found in Pasadena

For the first time, eggs from the type of mosquito that can transmit Zika have been found in Pasadena.

Health officials emphasize there are no reported infections as of yet.

The eggs were identified June 21 as those of the Aedes mosquito, commonly called the Asian tiger mosquito, a small insect known for biting during daytime hours, unlike more common mosquitoes that bite at night.

“It is important for the public to be aware of the presence of this mosquito, which is different than the local variety of the insect, and to take steps now to help protect yourself and your family against these mosquitoes,” said Dr. Ying-Ying Goh, the city’s health officer. “We are asking for the public’s help to take immediate action now in preventing the spread of this mosquito, such as eliminating all standing water sources on their property.”

Sightings of the mosquitoes should be reported to the San Gabriel Valley Mosquito & Vector Control District at (626) 814-9466.

The presence of similar mosquitoes was confirmed for the first time in mid-June by officials in Long Beach.

Here are some steps you can take to fight against all types of mosquitoes:

• Empty, scrub clean with hot water, turn over, cover—or throw out—unused outdoor items that hold water, such as tires, buckets, planters, toys, pools, birdbaths or flowerpots.

• Keep swimming pool water clean, sanitized and filtered. Same with ponds or birdbaths.

• Wear insect repellants containing DEET when outdoors.

• Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants when outdoors if weather permits.

• Check window and door screens for holes, repair or replace.

• When traveling, choose lodging that has air conditioning and screens.

Source: ABC 7 Eyewitness News

June 28, 2017: Mosquitoes That Can Carry Zika Spreading in Kansas, CDC Says

The two types of mosquitoes that can carry Zika — and other viruses — have been reported in Kansas.

One type of the mosquitoes has been reported for the first time in 38 Kansas counties, according to a new study by researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Six researchers examined all of the available county-level mosquito surveillance data to follow up on a study they published last year on the range of the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes.

The “yellow fever mosquito,” Aedes aegypti, mainly stayed in the upper northeast corner of the state, including in Wyandotte, Johnson, Douglas and Shawnee counties.

Closer to Wichita, the Aedes albopictus mosquito, also called the “Asian tiger mosquito,” was more common, reported in 38 Kansas counties. It has been found for three or more years in 22 counties, including Kingman, Sedgwick, Butler and Chase. All of the counties bordering Sedgwick had at least one Aedes albopictus reported between 1995 and 2016.

Sedgwick County was initially put on the Aedes aegypti database in error and was later removed.

Joe Conlon, technical adviser for the American Mosquito Control Association, said he was surprised to see the Aedes aegypti in Kansas.

“Aedes aegypti is generally regarded as a coastal mosquito, even though historically it’s been found in the Ohio River Valley,” Conlon said. “I think what this underscores is people need to be apprised of the fact that these mosquitoes and the diseases they transmit are just around the corner and the world is becoming a smaller place.”

Aedes aegypti prefers to feed on humans, making it the most common transmitter of Zika, dengue and chikungunya.

Both types of mosquitoes have been known to carry West Nile virus.

The Aedes albopictus can also transmit dengue fever and chikungunya. However, the mosquito feeds on animals as well as people, making it less likely to spread the various viruses than the Aedes aegypti. Even when an infected mosquito bites a human, it may be less likely to transmit the disease than the Aedes aegypti, Conlon said.

While Aedes albopictus isn’t the mosquito most known for spreading Zika, the Pan American Health Organization did report that 2016 tests found the Zika virus in Aedes albopictus mosquitoes in Mexico.

The CDC researchers emphasized that the presence of the mosquito in a certain county does not mean it’s abundant in that county and that mosquito-borne transmission of Zika has so far been extremely rare in the continental United States.

The 22 cases of Zika reported in Kansas have all been travel-related. The only documented instances of mosquito-borne Zika in the continental U.S. were in Florida and Texas.

Zika is a relatively mild illness except when it occurs during pregnancy, when it can cause the birth defect microcephaly. A study of almost 1,500 pregnant women with Zika in the continental United States found that it caused birth defects in about 5 percent of cases.

“I think what this paper is telling us is how important it is state and local jurisdictions have in place these surveillance networks to detect the presence of these mosquitoes,” CDC spokesman Tom Skinner said.

The best way to keep both the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus from breeding is to empty out any containers holding water, Conlon said. That includes trash cans, dishes under flower pots and birdbaths.

“They don’t breed in ponds, they don’t breed in puddles, they don’t breed in ditches,” Conlon said. “Particularly with Aedes aegypti, they breed in man-made containers filled with water.”

People should also scrape the sides of a dish when they empty the water, making sure to remove any mosquito eggs.

Wear long clothing and use mosquito repellent to avoid being bitten. The Aedes aegypti is attracted to dark clothing, so wearing light-colored clothes also helps, Conlon said.

Of the mosquito-borne illnesses, West Nile virus — most commonly transmitted by the Culex mosquito — is considered much more of a threat in this region. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment is now reporting a high risk of West Nile transmission throughout the state, and the virus is suspected in the death of a Jackson County, Mo., boy last month.

Most people infected with West Nile don’t experience any symptoms, according to the CDC. For about 20 percent of people infected, West Nile can cause a fever, headache, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea or rash. Fatigue can last weeks or months after recovery.

Three cases of West Nile in a human are being investigated now, while one case was confirmed in Barton County.

Source: The Garden City Telegram

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