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Blog | November 2016

Where Do Mosquitoes Go in Winter?

Believe it or not, the mosquitoes are out there, even in winter. They’re just hiding so we don’t notice them. Absent unseasonably warm weather, mosquitoes remain inactive through the winter months.

Some mosquitoes lay winter hardy eggs which lie dormant in the soil until spring. In late summer or fall, the female mosquito lays her eggs singly in areas where the ground is moist. The eggs hatch when conditions become favorable again, usually in the spring when temperatures begin to rise and sufficient rain falls.

Certain mosquitoes can survive winter in the larval stage. All mosquito larvae require water, even in winter. As the water temperature drops, it induces a state of diapause in the mosquito larvae, suspending further development and slowing metabolism.

Development resumes when the water warms again.

Many mosquito species live through the winter as adults. In fall, the mosquitoes mate and the males die. Only females spend the cold months hidden in protected places, such as hollow logs or animal burrows. When warm weather returns, the females must first find a bloodmeal to develop her eggs. Just when you’re outside enjoying the spring weather, the newly awakened mosquito moms are out in force, looking for blood. Once they’ve fed, the female mosquitoes lay their eggs in whatever standing water they can find.

Don't Be Fooled By Mosquito Control Gimmicks

When it comes to mosquito control devices, about the only thing that works is common sense, says an entomologist with Texas A&M University.

Meanwhile, many Texas citizens are using devices or controls costing hundreds or even thousands of dollars that may offer only marginal control or may actually draw more mosquitoes onto their property, said Dr. Jim Olson, professor of entomology with the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station in College Station, who passed last year.

Olson’s warning comes at a time when mosquito populations are on the rise due to warm, wet weather. It’s also a time when Texans need to heed the threat of mosquito-borne diseases such as West Nile Virus, Eastern Equine Encephalitis, and the Zika virus.

Fueled by fears of mosquito-borne diseases, the market is ripe for a host of dubious mosquito control devices.
“Often, the manufacturer’s game plan is to get in and make their profits and get out within two years, because it takes two years at least for the effectiveness of the devices to be researched,” Olson said.

First there are the sonic repellants. Whether wristband or tabletop model, these devices emit a high frequency sound, inaudible to humans, that mimics the sound that male mosquitoes make. Only female mosquitoes that have already mated with males bite humans and animals. By nature of their mated status, female mosquitoes tend to ignore male mosquitoes during this period of their life.
Good theory, Olson said, but unfortunately these devices just don’t work. The female’s lust for blood is more on her mind than avoiding males. Also female mosquitoes are only repelled by the sound of the male mosquito when they are already gorged with a blood meal. Consequently, the sonic repellant devices tend to only chase away females that aren’t prone to bite anyway.
The best thing about sonic repellants is they are generally inexpensive so buyers aren’t throwing that much money away, Olson noted.

Another type of sonic device supposedly attracts insects by imitating the sound of a human heartbeat. Unfortunately for the buyer – perhaps fortunately for the mosquito, the pest is not attracted by the sound of heartbeats but by the carbon dioxide and heat large mammals such as humans emit.

Some sonic devices also add heat to the attractant properties and draw mosquitoes into traps. If left on, they may actually trap hundreds of mosquitoes and that’s fine, but the problem is that in wet areas, the mosquito headcount may be as much as several million individuals per acre.

Another type of mosquito trap goes a step further. It uses propane to produce carbon dioxide and heat to draw the mosquitoes close enough to be sucked into a fan-driven trap. Though these propane-fueled devices may trap thousands of mosquitoes in a few days, there are again generally hundreds of thousands or even millions of mosquitoes an acre to deal with, thereby overwhelming the trap and its ability to effectively limit bites.

A warning flag on these devices is that they come with the caveat that they must be left on 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and then the owner will only realize a lowering of mosquito numbers in four to six weeks.

“With most mosquito species, weather conditions and the insect’s breeding patterns will result in a decline in four to six weeks without any intervention,” Olson said.

As with the bug zappers, the propane-fueled devices may actually draw more mosquitoes from long distances onto your property than can be controlled to prevent bites.
The question here is will these extra mosquitoes wait to be collected by the trap or take the opportunity to feed upon the trap’s owner?

“It’s probably a toss-up,” Olson said. “Plus, with the fact that running the propane burner 24/7 will draw more and more mosquitoes onto your property, you’re probably not going to lessen your chances of being bitten.”

What’s particularly disturbing to Olson are the pesticide misting devices now on the market. There are several models, but they generally work by emitting small puffs of the insecticides at timed intervals around a house’s perimeter. The devices are expensive, costing as much as $5,000, and their effectiveness is suspect. Worse is the amount of pesticide they release into the environment over time and the possibility of inhalation by residents and the drift of the pesticide to other properties.

“It’s about the most indiscriminate, irresponsible use of a chemical control that I’ve ever seen,” Olson said.
The best ways to avoid mosquito bites are the tried and true methods. As mosquitoes are most active at night, limit evening activities when possible. When you do go outside, cover up and use proven repellants.

“The DEET-containing repellants are still the most effective,” Olson said, “but other products and the organic repellants will work for awhile.”

Citronella candles repel mosquitoes but are most effective in enclosed patios and other confined spaces. The candles won’t work if conditions are windy.

People can take several preventative measures to reduce the mosquito population on their property.

“Dispose of prime breeding locations by getting rid of anything that will hold water,” Olson said. “Buckets and tin cans can fill with water and become breeding sites for mosquitoes.”

For areas that have standing water and can’t be drained, mosquito dunks are a good buy. The dunks, shaped like small donuts, use a bacterially derived pesticide called Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (Bti).

Bti disrupts the life cycle of insects that lay their eggs in standing or running water. It is non-toxic to humans, amphibians, fish, crustaceans, adult insects, flatworms and mollusks. Neither is it toxic to insect predators of the black fly, such as dragonflies. The dunks are inexpensive, can be simply dropped into the breeding pools and generally last for months.

Olson has 40 years of experience researching and studying the biology, ecology, survey and management of mosquitoes and other biting insects. His career work has emphasized control of mosquitoes associated with agricultural and reclaimed wetland systems.

How to Avoid Mosquito Bites

This advice from Dr. Manny at FOX News.

“Mosquitoes are carriers for certain diseases, some of which can be deadly. In the United States, West Nile virus is the most common and dangerous mosquito-transmitted disease. Mosquitoes also transmit malaria, dengue fever and chikungunya.

“Common symptoms of these diseases include fever, body aches, dizziness and confusion.

“These symptoms can pop up two days to two weeks after a mosquito bite. If you get bitten and develop flu-like symptoms, see your doctor immediately.

“Your chances of being infected with a disease through a mosquito bite may be small, and there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of being bitten.

• Cover your skin as much as you can when you’re outside and mosquitoes are active.
• Use insect repellent on exposed skin.
• Make sure there are screens on all the windows and doors in your home and that you cover any rips or tears in them.
• Avoid having standing water around your home.

November 30, 2016: County Continues Vigilance Against Spread of Zika Virus

“As researchers learn more about the devastating health effects of Zika, county crews this past week continued an unprecedented effort to stop the virus from spreading locally.

“For the 10th time this year, San Diego County’s vector-control crews sprayed insecticide in a neighborhood known to have mosquitoes that can carry the virus. The latest spraying took place in the South County neighborhood of Nestor.

“As of Wednesday, 67 people in the county had tested positive for Zika this year after traveling abroad. But only 10 neighborhoods have been sprayed because in many cases, the targeted Aedes mosquitoes weren’t detected near the sickened residents’ homes.

“San Diego County hasn’t fielded any report of a locally acquired Zika case, while there have been 139 nationally this year.

“’It is encouraging,’ said Rebecca Lafreniere, deputy director of the county’s Environmental Health Department. ‘But we really emphasize our public-health message about preventing the breeding [of mosquitoes] in the first place.’

“She said the public can do its part by eliminating any pools of stagnant water — even small amounts.

“Other prevention tips include staying inside and bringing pets indoors, closing windows and doors, turning off fans that bring outdoor air inside and covering ornamental fishponds. The county also advises people to rinse fruits and vegetables from gardens before cooking or eating them, as well as wiping down or covering outdoor items such as toys and barbecue grills.

“San Diego County’s latest Zika-related spraying case arose amid what may be encouraging signs about the epidemic’s containment in the U.S. and internationally.

“A study released by the agency last week urged further caution for new mothers; it cited research showing that severe birth defects caused by Zika may not be apparent at birth but develop months afterward. The CDC now recommends long-term monitoring of babies born to Zika-infected women.

“Aedes mosquitoes didn’t gain public awareness in the U.S. until recent years, but they’ve long been a scourge in several other parts of the world. They can transmit not only Zika, but also yellow fever, dengue fever and chikungunya.

“In San Diego County, Lafreniere said the Aedes aegypti, also known as the yellow fever mosquito, and the Aedes albopictus, or the Asian tiger mosquito, were first reported in 2014 and 2015, respectively. Their appearance was a game-changer for the region’s vector control officials, who deal with most mosquito species by trying to kill larvae or reduce breeding areas.

“In the past, San Diegans who contracted mosquito-borne diseases while abroad weren’t a public-health threat once they returned home because those non-Zika viruses essentially had no way to spread here. Aedes mosquitoes are considered more invasive, and they’re adept at surviving and expanding their populations in urban areas.

“Vector-control crews must go after the adults, specifically the females that bite people and spread the Zika virus, Lafreniere said.

“She also said the county was prepared for responding to Zika because it has a plan for dealing with emerging vector-borne diseases. Likewise, the county has a reserve budget for an emergency public-health threat and follows an existing integrated pest-management approach that addresses public information and education, mosquito surveillance, biological control, physical control and microbial and chemical control.

“Fighting Aedes mosquitoes hasn’t been without its challenges, though. Lafreniere didn’t cite a dollar amount last week, but said the anti-Zika work has created a ripple effect on her department.

“’Because we’ve had these 10 (spraying) responses, it has shifted some of our operational needs,’ she said. For example, she said the county’s standard response time of one day for a vector-control issue has sometimes been stretched to two days because of the anti-Zika efforts.

“Besides working to combat the new invasive mosquitoes, the county is dealing with a longer mosquito season, which traditionally was during the warmer months of April through October.

“’What we’ve been experiencing in the last few years is very mild winters,’ Lafreniere said. “We’ve been seeing more mosquitoes in the winter, which is unusual."

Source: The San Diego Union-Tribune

November 29, 2016: Microcephaly Found in Babies of Zika-Infected Mothers Months After Birth

“It is the news that doctors and families in the heart of Zika territory had feared: Some babies not born with the unusually small heads that are the most severe hallmark of brain damage as a result of the virus have developed the condition, called microcephaly, as they have grown older.

“The findings were reported in a study of 13 babies in Brazil that was published Tuesday in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. At birth, none of the babies had heads small enough to receive a diagnosis of microcephaly, but months later, 11 of them did.

“For most of those babies, brain scans soon after birth showed significant abnormalities, and researchers found that as the babies aged, their brains did not grow or develop enough for their age and body size. The new study echoes another published this fall, in which three babies were found to have microcephaly later in their first year.

“As they closed in on their first birthdays, many of the babies also had some of the other developmental and medical problems caused by Zika infection, a range of disabilities now being called congenital Zika syndrome. The impairments resemble characteristics of cerebral palsy and include epileptic seizures, muscle and joint problems and difficulties swallowing food.

“’There are some areas of great deficiency in the babies,’ said Dr. Cynthia Moore, the director of the division of congenital and developmental disorders for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and an author of the new study. ‘They certainly are going to have a lot of impairment.’

“Dr. Deborah Levine, a professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School who has studied Zika but was not involved in either study, said there would most likely be other waves of children whose brains were affected by the Zika infection, but not severely enough to be noticed in their first year.

“’A lot of the developmental abnormalities we’re not going to see until later,’ she said. ‘There’s going to be another group seen later in childhood, I’m afraid, and another group probably when they reach school age.’

“In the new study, doctors at two clinics in the northeastern Brazilian states of Pernambuco and Ceará described the cases of 13 infants who had tested positive for the Zika virus. In 11 of the babies, brain scans taken days or weeks after birth showed significant neurological damage, including improperly formed brain areas, excess fluid in some places and abnormal calcium deposits, or calcification, which probably resulted from brain cell death. But the size of their heads, though small, was not small enough to be considered microcephaly. So doctors monitored their progress as they grew.

“Dr. Vanessa van der Linden, another author of the study and a neuropediatrician at the Association for Assistance of Disabled Children in Recife, Brazil, where most of the babies in the study are patients, said the type of brain damage in the babies who later developed microcephaly “presented the same pattern, but less severe” than those with it at birth.

“The babies in the study published this fall also appeared to have a pattern of similar, but less severe, brain damage, said Dr. Antonio Augusto Moura da Silva, of the Federal University of Maranhão and an author of that study, which was published in Emerging Infectious Diseases. He and his colleagues studied 48 babies with brain abnormalities in the northeastern state of Maranhão, identified six babies who did not have microcephaly at birth, and found that three of them later developed it.

“’We were worried, but now that we’ve started following those cases, we are very sad,’ Dr. Silva said. ‘The picture is really terrible. At the least, if they have microcephaly, we expect them to have a very poor quality of life.’

“Experts and the authors of the studies said it was unclear why these infants’ brains did not develop enough to match their age and body size. Dr. Ernesto T. A. Marques Jr., an infectious disease specialist at the University of Pittsburgh and the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Recife, who was not involved in either study, said it could be that because of the initial fetal brain damage, “the necessary pathways and hormones that organize growth of the neonatal brain are not there anymore and the brain doesn’t grow.”

“It could also be the result of the immune system responding to the original Zika virus infection. Dr. Moore said that another possibility might be that there was still some infection that continued to damage the brain. But she said that seemed less likely, given that follow-up tests for Zika virus conducted on seven of the babies did not find evidence of active infection.

“The oldest babies in these studies are only just over a year old, too young for researchers to identify cognitive problems or delays in skills like speech. But some deficits are clear: Many of the babies had serious physical deficits tied to neurological damage, including overly tense muscles, muscle weakness and the inability to voluntarily move their hands.

“Still, unlike many babies born with microcephaly, most of the 13 in the new study had social interaction skills like smiling and making eye contact. And eight of them had good head control, an important skill for developing the ability to sit or walk.

“While cautioning that the study involved too few cases to make generalizations, Dr. van der Linden said that it appeared that most of these babies had good eye contact because the damage was less severe in brain areas involving vision than it was in areas involving motor skills.

“Dr. Marques said that head control, the ability to lift and support the head without help, in babies with microcephaly was “quite rare.” Having a social smile and eye contact is less rare, he said, depending on the type of visual damage and on whether they receive enough visual stimulation to strengthen their ability to use their eyes.

“’At this age, 80 percent of brain stimulus comes from the eyes,’ he said. ‘If you don’t have that working and you lose this window of opportunity, these babies cannot recover it.’

“One baby, a boy, had no anomalies at birth. His limbs looked normal and his head size was proportional to his body, Dr. Moore said. But brain scans soon after birth showed excess fluid and abnormalities in his cortex and corpus callosum, which separates the two hemispheres. At 11 months old, he had microcephaly, and also epilepsy, difficulty swallowing, involuntary muscle contractions, and muscles that were too stiff and restricted his movement, she said.

“Another baby had a sloping forehead and slight depressions in the front of his head at birth, as well as similar types of brain damage, apparent on scans, Dr. Moore said. By the time he was 1, he had developed microcephaly that was among the most severe of the babies in the study, and had muscular and swallowing problems. But he also had good eye contact, researchers reported.

“In six of the cases, the mothers reported having a symptom of Zika infection, a rash, between the second and fifth months of pregnancy. That supports other evidence suggesting that babies born to mothers who were infected late in the first trimester suffer the most serious effects. But since there are no symptoms in 80 percent of cases of Zika infection, it was unclear when most of the women were infected, and researchers are still unable to say whether the virus is more damaging to babies if their mothers experience symptoms.”

Source: The New York Times

November 28, 2016: Threat Posed by Zika Expected to Continue In Georgia In 2017

“Georgia so far has escaped the type of Zika threat faced by Florida, which has been the epicenter of the virus in the continental United States.

“However, public health officials say Zika will still pose problems in Georgia in coming years. And they note that some pregnant women in Georgia are infected with the virus, meaning they could give birth to babies with health problems.

“Georgia has seen 104 ‘travel-related’ cases of Zika since the first case was reported, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. So far, not one infection has been caused by in-state mosquitoes, the newspaper reported.

“Though mosquito season may be over now, authorities say Zika will be a threat in 2017, and the virus could potentially be spread by local mosquitoes as it has spread in south Florida.

“In some ways 2016 was a dry run for what Georgia could face in 2017 if the virus spreads by local mosquitoes as it has in Miami, the Atlanta newspaper reported. Awareness campaigns launched during the past year in Georgia are lessons that will carry over if that happens, officials said.

“’This particular mosquito season, even though we’ve seen low numbers of mosquitoes that can carry the virus, it doesn’t mean that next season will be the same,’ said Chris Kumnick, interim director of environmental health for the Georgia Department of Public Health. ‘It doesn’t diminish the risk of managing that hazard.’

“The ongoing drought that’s spread across Georgia in the past eight months is one factor that helped the state avoid an outbreak like the one in south Florida, officials said. Another factor was a war for dominance between the two types of mosquitoes that carry the virus.

“By late spring, Georgia’s state health department had relaunched its Tip and Toss campaign, a mosquito control effort aimed at homeowners and businesses. People were told to remove all standing water from their bird baths, truck beds, patio furniture and any other outside containers bigger than a bottle cap. A teaspoon of water is enough for mosquitoes to successfully lay eggs, Georgians were warned.

But by the end of October, Georgia was well below its annual rainfall totals. Atlanta, Athens, Columbus and Macon all had below 33 inches of rain, anywhere from 12 to 16 inches below their respective 30 year averages. That, coupled with a cooler spring statewide and lower humidity levels in early summer, drove mosquito populations down.

Georgia monitors the insects’ population with light traps around the state. Epidemiologists extrapolate the potential number of the insects in the area based on the number of mosquitoes caught in the traps.

In particular, epidemiologists were looking for the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus breeds, the primary carriers of the disease. For the last five to seven years, the Aedes aegypti population has been dwindling, said Kumnick. That mosquito is responsible for Miami’s Zika outbreak. It is the most efficient in spreading the virus because it only feeds on humans.

In Georgia, the only place the aegypti was found was in Muscogee County; until late September, only 14 of that type had been found. Along the Georgia coast, where some thought a local outbreak might originate, the last time the aegypti was found in traps was 2012 in Chatham County, Kumnick said.

Earlier this month, Georgia requested an additional $800,000 from the $1.1 billion federal Zika bill passed by Congress earlier this fall, said Nancy Nydam, spokeswoman for the state public health department.

That money will go toward preparedness for next year, officials said. Though the mosquitoes may be just about gone this season, their eggs are not. Those eggs over winter, wet or dry, and will be ready to hatch as soon as the weather warms next summer."

Source: The Associated Press

November 27, 2016: People Planning Winter Vacations Still Need to Worry About Zika Virus

According to the World Health Organization, the Zika virus is here to stay. And with people planning their winter vacations, travelers are being advised to pack bug spray and long sleeve clothing.

“Travelers are busy looking for last minute vacation plans.

“Deanna Sutherland Rigby from Vision Travel says warmer destinations are the most popular this time of year.

“’Dominican, Cuba, Mexico and other southern Caribbean Islands.’

“They’re also places with the highest risks of contracting Zika.

“Sutherland Rigby says while it is not top of mind for many vacationers it has been a topic of discussion this season.

“Cases of Zika have now been reported in over 50 countries.

“’You really can’t go anywhere now that there isn’t Zika virus.’

“Dr. Fiona Hunter is studying how the virus spreads to mosquitoes. She recently travelled to Brazil, another hot spot for the virus, and even plans on taking her family to the Dominican Republic this year.

“’This is the new normal- having Zika virus in the south and if you do choose to go somewhere you have to take care of yourself.’

“She advises vacationers to bring bug spray with them because some places don’t sell them.

“According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention mosquitoes that spread Zika don’t live at elevations above 2000 metres.

“Dr. Hunter says there is still a lot not known about Zika, which has been linked to severe birth defects.

“’Anybody out there who is either not pregnant or not planning on getting pregnant – Zika virus is really nothing to worry about.,’ said Dr. Brett Belchetz.

“Men and women are urged to practice safe sex for six months after travelling to Zika infected areas.

Source: CHCH

November 26, 2016: Canceling the Zika Public Health Emergency Was the Wrong Thing to Do

This update from Lawrence O. Goshin, with whom this Editor agrees.

“The World Health Organization did the right thing back in February when it declared the Zika outbreak to be a public health emergency of international concern. It did the wrong thing last week when it ended the emergency.

I say that for several reasons, not least of which is the signal given by the latest declaration: that Zika is no longer a pressing global concern.

A legal technicality. I understand why the WHO Emergency Committee terminated the emergency. It felt obliged to follow the International Health Regulations, a move likely to set a precedent for future outbreaks. Zika is now endemic, and has been for many years. The major spread of the disease in Latin America and the Caribbean was an important reason to declare an emergency. Another was that the clusters of children born with small heads and major cognitive problems (microcephaly) were extraordinary events that required urgent research. The Emergency Committee felt that once those extraordinary events were confirmed as being linked to Zika and that the Olympics, which required emergency recommendations, were over, the requirement for a public health emergency of international concern — an unusual or unexpected event of international concern — was no longer met.

“As a matter of law, the WHO director-general has considerable discretion on how to interpret the international health regulations that define public health emergencies of international concern. Zika offered a perfect opportunity to use that discretion. Moreover, the WHO has never been consistent in its interpretation of these regulations, as I describe later about polio and MERS.

Too early. The southern regions of the globe will soon enter the summer season, which is peak time for mosquito breeding and biting. So far, there are no indicators that Zika won’t re-emerge with a vengeance. And those regions — Latin America, southern Asia, and southern Africa — tend to have poor countries that are least prepared to fight a Zika epidemic.

No vaccine. Despite hard and sustained work by research teams around the world, a vaccine against Zika is not on the horizon. Calling off the emergency without the means to prevent an epidemic doesn’t make sense.

Harmful signal. Despite the potentially devastating effect of a Zika infection — babies born with microcephaly — the world has devoted scant political and economic resources to this disease. Declaring that the emergency is over will be a signal to the world that it is all right to pull resources back from fighting Zika, no matter what the WHO says. Canceling the emergency lets uninformed politicians say, “It’s no longer an emergency. Let’s devote the funds to other priorities.” That’s a likely scenario for the incoming Trump administration, which has shown its antipathy, if not hostility, to global and United Nations institutions.

“Deciding that the outbreak of a disease is or is not a public health emergency of international concern should be squarely based on science. Yet all too often it has a political dimension as well. In May 2014, for example, WHO declared an emergency for polio, even though only a small number of cases had emerged. That emergency is still in effect. The Gates Foundation, Rotary International, and other politically powerful organizations have poured enormous resources into polio eradication. A year earlier, WHO did not call an emergency for Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), even though the virus that causes MERS fulfilled all the requirements for an emergency. Saudi Arabia is the epicenter of MERS and it is widely believed the Saudi government exerted political influence to prevent an emergency declaration.

“Although understandable, it is disconcerting that the WHO terminated the Zika emergency so quickly. Zika, with its effect on mothers and babies, has an enormous political — not to mention economic, social, and moral — dimensions.

“Calling off the Zika emergency means dismantling the Zika Emergency Committee. That in itself is a handicap to the global response because the committee, chaired by David Heymann, has been a strong, intelligent, and powerful voice that kept Zika on the front burner.”

“Ebola taught us that the world is woefully unprepared for epidemics and that, in addition to causing death and suffering, epidemics cause enormous economic and social upheaval.

“Declaring an outbreak to be a public health emergency of international concern sounds the alarm to the world to be watchful and prepared to act with manpower, funding, and political support. Discontinuing the alarm too soon sends the opposite signal, and could be an excuse for political leaders to pull back on national and global preparedness and response. To his credit, Dr. Peter Salama, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies program said, “Zika is here to stay, and the WHO’s response is here to stay.” That is the right sense of urgency, but sadly the WHO has given a subtle signal that the world can go on with business as usual.”

Source: FOX News

November 23, 2016: Florida Keys Approves Trial of Genetically Modified Mosquitoes to Fight Zika

“In the Florida Keys on Election Day, along with the presidential race, one of the most controversial items on the ballot dealt with Zika. In a nonbinding vote countywide, residents in the Florida Keys approved a measure allowing a British company to begin a trial release of genetically modified mosquitoes. Armed with that approval, local officials voted Saturday to try out what they hope will be a new tool in the fight against Zika.

“For months now, state and local authorities in Florida have struggled to control the spread of Zika. But although there have been more than 200 cases of locally transmitted Zika statewide, none have been reported in the Keys. And that’s one reason why residents like Megan Hall oppose the new technology. At a meeting of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District board in Marathon on Saturday, Hall made a personal appeal to the board. ‘I am going to ask you, beg you, plead with you,’ she said, ‘not to go forward with this.’

“For five years now, the district has been working with the British company Oxitec to get federal approval for a trial release of the mosquitoes in the Keys. The company releases genetically modified male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes into the wild. When they mate with female Aedes aegypti, their offspring die.

“In trials in Brazil, the Cayman Islands and other countries, Oxitec has shown its GM mosquitoes can reduce the population of Aedes Aegypti by 90 percent or more. But after five years, a small but vocal group of residents is not convinced the mosquitoes are safe. Opponent Dina Schoneck told the board, there are still too many unanswered questions about the new technology. She said, ‘I believe there are a lot of risks that are not being considered.’

“Although it doesn’t have any cases of local Zika transmission yet, Monroe County, which includes the Keys, has had big problems in the past with dengue, another disease carried by the same mosquito. The head of the county’s health department, Bob Eadie, supports the trials. Just because the county hasn’t had any local Zika cases yet doesn’t mean the disease isn’t a threat, he said. Eadie went on, ‘There is a tool available for the people of Monroe County that can help control mosquitoes that carry a very, very, very serious disease.’

“In August, the Food and Drug Administration gave its approval for the trial, saying it found no potential adverse impact on human health or the environment. Because of the vocal opposition, the Mosquito Control District’s Board of Commissioners decided to submit the trial to the voters in the form of two nonbinding resolutions. One was for the residents of Key Haven, the community where the trials were proposed. The other referendum went before voters in the rest of the county.

“Because Key Haven voters rejected it, commissioners say trials won’t be conducted there. But in Saturday’s meeting, the board approved trials elsewhere in the Keys at a location still to be determined. Jill Cranney-Gage is a commissioner who represents Key West. ‘This is a tool mosquito control needs. When you’re sworn into office,’ Cranney-Gage said,‘your main goal is to kill mosquitoes and to protect the residents and the county.’

Officials in the Keys say the announcement by the World Health Organization that Zika is no longer a “public health emergency” is in no way an indication the threat is lessening but that instead, it’s a disease that’s here to stay

“Florida Keys Mosquito Control District staff and Oxitec are now working now to identify a new neighborhood to conduct trials. Derric Nimmo with Oxitec is hopeful that identifying a new location and receiving federal approval will be a matter of a few months, and releases could start next year. Nimmo says he’s encouraged that the GM mosquito technology gained the approval of a large majority — 58 percent of county residents. ‘So there is very strong support for use of this technology in Monroe County,’ he says. ‘And hopefully, they’ll move forward with this trial.’

“After months of struggling with Zika, health officials and mosquito control authorities elsewhere in Florida are eager to begin their own trials of the GM mosquitoes. Oxitec says if things go well in the Keys, it could begin trials next year in Miami.”

Source: NPR

November 22, 2016: Zika Status Sparks Fears of Complacency

“The World Health Organization on Friday declared that Zika no longer constitutes an international emergency, but it stressed a need for a long-term effort to address the virus, which has been linked to birth defects and neurological complications.

“Officials on WHO’s Emergency Committee made clear the Zika still constitutes a global public health threat. They warned the virus, which has been found in 60 countries since the outbreak was identified last year in Brazil, will continue to spread where mosquitoes that carry the virus are present.

“Removing the international emergency designation will put Zika in a class with other diseases, such as dengue, that pose serious risks and require continued research, including efforts to develop effective vaccines.

But some public health experts worried that losing the “international emergency” label could slow research into the virus, which continues to cause infections in the United States and elsewhere.

WHO in February declared Zika a public health emergency of international concern—a designation under international law that compels countries to report outbreaks. The move was part of an effort to determine if Zika was linked to reports in Brazil of the severe birth defect microcephaly and the neurological disorder Guillain-Barre Syndrome. Traditionally, Zika had only been thought to cause mild symptoms.

“That goal has been met, said Dr David Heymann, chair of the Zika Emergency Committee and a professor of infectious disease at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, in a conference call with reporters following the committee meeting in Geneva.

“Because research has now shown that Zika and microcephaly are linked, “the committee felt that what is best now is a very robust technical response to the virus, and that would require work within WHO,” he said.

“The U.N. health agency maintained recommendations including that people exposed to the Zika virus should take preventive measures for six months to avoid sexual transmission.

“’It remains crucially important that pregnant women avoid traveling to areas with local transmission of Zika, because of the devastating complications that can occur in fetuses that become infected during pregnancy,’ the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said in a statement.

Source: Newsweek

November 21, 2016: Is Zika On the President-elect's Agenda?

“Before coming into office in January, newly elected President Trump has a lot of the country’s issues to think about. Is the Zika virus outbreak one of them?

“The government has failed to do anything to defend the birth-defect causing virus as it spreads throughout the United States. President (soon to be former) Obama has tried implanted 2 billion dollar Zika defense budget, but unfortunately it never got passed.

“Government organizations such as the CDC and NIH have been working diligently to provide any form of assistance to the mosquito born virus. Since the outbreak, millions of dollars have been shuffled and funded, and dozens of clinical trials and studies have been formed to create a vaccine. Still, no solutions have been formed.

So What Is Trump Thinking?

“So far, he has said little on the subject. Previously, Trump has said that at least in the case of the state of Florida where Zika seems to be the most active, he would defer to state government Gov. Rick Scott when it comes to decision making.

“Back in August, Trump was asked about his plan for Zika, he did applaud Florida’s efforts, but did not make any statement regarding what he would contribute from Washington D.C. if elected president.

He said “It’s a problem. It’s a big problem,” Trump said. “But I watch and I see what they’re doing with the spraying and everything else, and I think [Scott is] doing a fantastic job. And he’s letting everyone know exactly what the problem is and how to get rid of it. He’s going to have it under control. He probably already does.”

Can It Get Worse?

“A huge problem that can occur is the WHO may downgrade Zika’s status from ‘public health emergency of international concern,’ if that becomes the case, scientists are worried that they won’t be able to get enough support to stop the virus.

“Just like we have with the government, we will and wait to see the future of the Zika virus in the United States, as we transition into a new presidency.”

Source: Rare Disease Report

November 20, 2016: Zika Can Survive for Hours On Hard, Nonporous Surfaces

“The Zika virus is able to infect people even after sitting out on a counter for several hours, according to new research.

“But the good news is that in that state, it is also easy to kill with common household chemicals.

“The study, published Tuesday, found that the Zika virus — which can produce severe brain defects in fetuses and young children and has been linked to other harmful conditions — can be highly contagious even after hours of living outside a host.

“The research was conducted by scientists from RMC Pharmaceutical Solutions, a consultancy for drug developers, and Microbac Laboratories, a provider of laboratory analytics. The team presented its findings at the annual meeting of the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists in Denver, Colorado.
The study also looked at how effective some common laboratory cleaning chemicals were at killing the virus, including isopropyl alcohol, diluted bleach, quaternary ammonium/alcohol, peracetic acid and pH 4 or pH 10 solutions.

“The most effective solutions in killing the virus on surfaces were isopropyl alcohol and quaternary ammonium/alcohol. The pH 4 or pH 10 solutions were the least effective, while diluted bleach and peracetic acid were found to be effective virus killers, except when the Zika sample was suspended in blood.

“‘Zika can survive on hard, nonporous surfaces for as long as eight hours, possibly longer when the environment contains blood, which is more likely to occur in the real world,’ S. Steve Zhou, one of the study’s authors and director of virology and molecular biology for MicroBioTest Laboratories (a Microbac unit), said. ‘The good news is that we found that disinfectants such as isopropyl alcohol and quaternary ammonium/alcohol are generally effective in killing the virus in this type of environment and can do so in a little as 15 seconds.’”

Zika is usually spread through disease-carrying mosquitoes, as well as from person to person. Getting the disease from the environment is rare, though the research notes there has been at least one case of a person contracting the virus through laboratory exposure.

Source: CNBC

November 19, 2016: Zika Virus Teams Up With Other Viruses to Sicken People

Two studies out Monday show that the Zika virus may not be working alone in causing strange infections in South America. It may be getting help from dengue and chikungunya, too.

“One team found that mosquitoes can be infected with Zika and chikungunya at the same time and could, in theory, infect people with both viruses in a single bite.

“And a second team found a range of unusual symptoms in people in Brazil last year as Zika, chikungunya and dengue all swept through populations, often infecting people at the same time. One of the oddest is known as ‘dancing eyes-dancing feet syndrome.’

“The findings, presented at a meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, add to the growing list of mysterious and previously unsuspected damage that Zika virus causes.

“’Our analysis shows that each of these viruses may have the potential to cause a range of neurological complications, some very severe, and patients should be monitored for symptoms,’ said Dr. Isadora Siqueira of Brazil’s Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, who worked on one study.

“’What’s very difficult to determine is whether having a co-infection with two of these viruses increases the risk of neurological problems. We are still looking closely at the case of the patient who was infected with both chikungunya and dengue.’

“Dengue and Zika are closely related viruses called flaviviruses. Chikungunya is in a different family, called alphaviruses, but all three are spread by Aedes aegypti mosquitoes and they can cause similar symptoms: fever, headache and body aches. Zika causes severe birth defects; dengue can cause a deadly hemorrhagic fever and chikungunya causes racking pain.

“They are not easy to tell apart and only with tests made available in recent months can doctors tell for sure which virus a patient has had.

“All three can also cause rare neurological side-effects and doctors have wondered if people get sicker if they become infected with more than one at the same time, or one after the other.

“The findings from northeastern Brazil suggest they may. They reported on 21 cases of neurological illnesses including Guillain-Barre syndrome, a strange, paralyzing condition that can be caused by a number of infections, including Zika.

“Most of the patients had classic Guillain-Barre, which usually clears up, although it can make patients seriously ill. Others had much more unusual conditions, including two with opsoclonus-myoclonue ataxia syndrome, commonly known as dancing eyes-dancing feet syndrome because of the strange, jerky movements it can cause.

“It usually only affects about 1 in a million people, but both cases turned up in the same hospital during an epidemic affecting 18,000 people.

“One of the two patients tested positive for both Zika and dengue, while the second had both chikungunya and dengue, Siqueira said.

“None of the patients died but it can take weeks or even months to fully recover from these conditions. Zika has killed a handful of patients, as has chikungunya. Dengue comes in four strains and is much deadlier.

“There’s a worry if the viruses work together to worsen illness. Brazilian doctors have been trying to determine if having two infections together or close together makes a pregnant woman more likely to have a baby with birth defects, for instance.”

Source: NBC News

November 18, 2016: Zika Infection in U.S. Is Still Rare So Far, Blood Donations Indicate

And now for some encouraging news from Catherine Saint Louis of The New York Times.

“By the end of this week, all blood banks in the continental United States must begin testing donated blood for contamination with the Zika virus. Many banks are doing so already, and the early results indicate that the country has dodged a bullet — for now.

“Screenings in a dozen states suggest that Zika infection remains exceedingly rare. Among the approximately 800,000 blood donations tested in the past six months or so, about 40 were initially positive for the virus.

“’It is good news that we are avoiding the transmission of Zika,’ said Dr. Susan Rossmann, the chief medical officer at Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center in Houston.

“Still, she noted, it may not be surprising there are so few possibly positive cases, because blood banks have been dissuading people from donating if they recently traveled to an area in which the virus is circulating.

“Blood donation screening for Zika is performed with tests made by Roche Molecular Systems or by a collaboration between two medical companies, Hologic Inc. and Grifols.

“The screening effort is regulated as two gigantic clinical trials in which every blood donor is enrolled as a participant. All the results, therefore, are reported to the companies.

“By Friday, Roche’s machines had screened 475,000 donations in the United States, excluding Puerto Rico. Just 25 have been “initially reactive” for Zika infection, said Tony Hardiman, who leads the company’s blood screening program.

“’Compared to Puerto Rico, it’s tiny,’ he said.

“Roughly 1 percent of the blood donors in Puerto Rico were infected by July, with 1.8 percent of them testing initially positive in the last week of surveillance, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

By mid-October, roughly 348,000 donations had been screened using the test made by Hologic Inc. and Grifols. Fourteen were initially positive for the Zika virus.

“It may be that not all of these samples are truly contaminated. The technology is still in development, and the manufacturers are scrambling to confirm their results with further investigations of the donors.

“Of three donors examined by Hologic and Grifols, all seem to have been infected outside the United States. One donor gave blood at United Blood Services in Reno, Nev., after visiting Nicaragua. Another, a New Yorker, had been to Trinidad. The third lives in Arizona and had visited Mexico.

“All three donors had minute traces of the Zika virus in their blood, detected between 41 and 97 days after travel abroad, Jeffrey Linnen, an associate vice president at Hologic, told attendees at a recent conference for AABB, the standards-setting group for most blood banks nationwide.

“Viral material detected after 40 days is unlikely to be live virus, said Dr. David O. Freedman, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

“’The farther along you are after infection, the more likely you are just detecting residual breakdown products from dead virus pieces that are still circulating,’ he said.

“In August, the Food and Drug Administration required all blood banks to screen each of the millions of blood donations collected annually for Zika. Eleven states in high-risk areas had to put in the new safeguards in a month. The rest must do so by Friday.

“At the time, experts feared that Zika-infected mosquitoes would begin turning up in states along the Gulf Coast, prompting outbreaks like those seen in South America and threatening the nation’s supply of donated blood.

“Universal screening was necessary to avoid transmission of the Zika virus in donated blood, particularly to pregnant women. If exposed to the virus in utero, fetuses can have brain damage, visual and joint problems, and muscle tone so rigid it restricts movement.

“Florida is the only state with documented local transmission of the virus. In July, the F.D.A. temporarily halted collection of blood donations in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties until screening for the Zika virus could be put in place.”

Source: The New York Times

November 17, 2016: DNA-Based Zika Vaccine Showed Protection from Infection, Brain Damage and Death

A new vaccination has generated a robust and protective antigen-specific antibody and T cell immune responses in preclinical animal models, report scientists.

“As the global spread of the Zika virus continues, efforts are underway to halt the disease’s transmission. While no licensed therapies or vaccines to protect against the Zika virus are currently available, new research published in the journal npj Vaccines demonstrates how a synthetic DNA vaccine approach successfully protected against infection, brain damage and death caused by the mosquito-borne Zika virus in vivo.

“In this preclinical study, 100 percent of the animal models were protected from Zika after vaccination followed by a challenge with the Zika virus. In addition, they were protected from degeneration in the cerebral cortex and hippocampal areas of the brain, while the other cohort showed degeneration of the brain after Zika infection.

“’Our results support the critical importance of immune responses for both preventing infection as well as ameliorating disease caused by the Zika virus,’ said lead researcher David B. Weiner, Ph.D., Executive Vice President and Director of the Vaccine Center at The Wistar Institute and the W.W. Smith Charitable Trust Professor in Cancer Research at Wistar. ‘As the threat of Zika continues, these results provide insight into a new aspect of the possibly protective ability of such a vaccine as a preventative approach for Zika infection.’

“This study is the first of its kind to analyze a vaccine in an animal model that is susceptible to the disease, providing information regarding the protective impact of the immune response in susceptible individuals. Prior studies of the Zika virus have tested vaccines in animal models that are naturally resistant to Zika. This study extends these prior research studies in an important manner.

“In this latest study, Weiner and colleagues demonstrated how a synthetic DNA vaccine expressed specific antigens for Zika in vivo. They observed that this novel vaccine generated robust antigen-specific antibody and T cell responses that neutralized the virus in preclinical animal models. Moreover, they found that the vaccine provided protection against the disease and death in animal models while also being neuroprotective, meaning that the disease was unable to spread to the brain. This is especially important given the risk that infants born with the disease have of developing microcephaly, a birth defect resulting in an abnormally small head and that may prevent the brain from developing properly.

“One important aspect of Zika and many other mosquito-borne diseases is that not everyone infected with the virus will actually become ill as a result. With Zika, only about 20 to 25 percent of individuals with the virus are actually impacted by the disease, according to previous studies from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). However, there is no way to know for certain who will be at risk for illness due to the virus, which is why it was crucial for this study to examine how a vaccine would operate in an infected, symptomatic host.

“This Zika vaccine is being developed in collaboration between Inovio, The Wistar Institute, and GeneOne Life Science Inc. and is currently being tested in two human clinical studies. Before the end of 2016, Inovio expects to report phase I data from the first 40-subject study being conducted in Miami, Philadelphia and Quebec City. In August, the companies also initiated a second study in 160 subjects in Puerto Rico. The CDC estimates that Zika will infect more than 25 percent of the Puerto Rican population by the end of the year, creating the potential for this study’s placebo-controlled design to provide exploratory signals of vaccine efficacy in 2017.

“A total of nearly 4,000 cases of Zika infection have been reported in the United States alone, according to the CDC. While most of these are travel-associated cases, more than 100 cases of Zika infection originating within the United States have been reported. Globally, more than 60 countries have reported mosquito-borne transmission of the disease.”

Source: Science Daily

November 16, 2016: Zika Striking Women at Higher Rates than Men

“Adult women in Puerto Rico were significantly more likely to develop Zika than men, researchers said on Thursday, raising new questions about the potential role of sexual transmission of the virus from males to females.

“The study, published in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s weekly report on death and disease, evaluated more than 29,000 laboratory-confirmed cases of Zika since the outbreak began in Puerto Rico in November 2015.

“The data show that of all Zika cases with laboratory evidence of infection, 62 percent were female. The results pattern similar observations from Brazil and El Salvador, the authors said.

“One obvious explanation might be that pregnant women are more likely than men to seek treatment for Zika because of the potential risk of birth defects.

“To account for that, the researchers excluded all pregnant women who tested positive for the virus. Of the remaining 28,219 non-pregnant women and men testing positive for Zika, 61 percent of these cases occurred in women over the age of 20.

“The Zika findings differ from prior outbreaks in Puerto Rico of arboviruses transmitted by the same mosquitoes as Zika. For example, in the 2010 dengue outbreak and the 2014 chikungunya outbreak, infections were equally distributed among men and women.

“’It is possible that male-to-female sexual transmission is a contributing factor to this skewing of the burden of disease toward women,’ the CDC said in a statement summarizing the findings.

“However, the contribution of sexual transmission to overall Zika rates is just beginning to be explored, the CDC said. It could be that women are more likely than men to seek care if they are sick, or that women are more likely to develop Zika symptoms if they become infected.

“The CDC is conducting blood tests of individuals living near people with confirmed Zika to try to answer some of these questions.

“Zika infections in pregnant women have been shown to cause microcephaly – a severe birth defect in which the head and brain are undersized – as well as other brain abnormalities. The connection between Zika and microcephaly first came to light last year in Brazil, which has since confirmed more than 2,000 cases of microcephaly.”

Source: 97.5 FM Knoxville

November 15, 2016: Zika Vaccine Protects Animals from Infection, Brain Damage and Death

Article published in npj Vaccines demonstrates that DNA vaccine protected 100% of animals from Zika infection after exposure to the virus

“Inovio Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (NASDAQ:INO) today announced that Inovio and its collaborators have published results in Nature Partner Journals (npj) Vaccines demonstrating that its Zika DNA vaccine (GLS-5700) protected animals from infection, brain damage and death. In this study 100% of GLS-5700 vaccinated animals were protected from Zika infection after exposure to the virus. In addition, vaccinated mice were protected from degeneration in the cerebral cortex and hippocampal areas of the brain while unvaccinated mice showed significant degeneration of the brain after Zika infection.

“Prior preclinical studies have tested potential Zika vaccine candidates in animal models involving normal mice and non-human primates that are naturally resistant to Zika. While providing useful immunology data, they cannot provide relevant evidence of an effective means of controlling the spread or medical impacts of this disease by vaccination. In addition to reporting immunogenicity in such Zika-resistant species, this paper represents the first published research to also analyze a Zika vaccine using the special transgenic murine strain A129 lacking interferon alpha and beta receptors (IFNAR-/-), making them highly susceptible to Zika infection and disease. Taking this extra step provided data on how vaccine-generated immune responses could protect against a lethal viral challenge and demonstrates the benefit a Zika vaccine might provide in people.

“Dr.” J. Joseph Kim":, President and CEO of Inovio, said, “We clearly demonstrated the power and speed of our product development platform when we and our collaborators moved our Zika vaccine from the bench to human clinical studies in less than six months, a vaccine industry record. We’re pleased to now build further evidence of the potential utility of our product.”

“’Our results support the critical importance of immune responses for both preventing infection as well as ameliorating disease caused by the Zika virus,’ said lead researcher David B. Weiner, Ph.D., Executive Vice President and Director of the Vaccine Center at The Wistar Institute and the W.W. Smith Charitable Trust Professor in Cancer Research at Wistar. Dr. Weiner is also a member of Inovio’s board of directors and chairs its scientific advisory board. ‘As the threat of Zika continues, these results further encourage the study of this vaccine as a preventative approach for protecting humans.’

“This study demonstrated that Inovio’s synthetic DNA vaccine expressed antigens specific to Zika and generated robust antigen-specific and neutralizing antibody and T cell responses in mouse and non-human primate models. Moreover, the study also demonstrated that GLS-5700 provided protection against the disease and death in Zika-susceptible A129 transgenic mice while also being neuroprotective, meaning the disease was unable to spread to the brain. This is especially important given the risk that babies born with the disease have of developing microcephaly, a birth defect resulting in an abnormally small head and that may prevent the brain from developing properly.

“This Zika vaccine was developed in a collaboration between Inovio Pharmaceuticals, Inc., The Wistar Institute, and GeneOne Life Science Inc. and is currently in two human clinical studies. Inovio expects to report phase I data before the end of this year from the first 40-subject study being conducted in Miami, Philadelphia and Quebec City. In August, the companies initiated a second study of GLS-5700 in 160 subjects in Puerto Rico. The CDC estimates that Zika will infect more than 25 percent of the Puerto Rican population by the end of the year, providing the potential for this study’s placebo control design to provide exploratory signals of vaccine efficacy in 2017.”

Source: Inovio

November 14, 2016: Fighting Zika with Germ Warfare

“_The enemy of my enemy is my friend_. That ancient wartime dictum has taken on new meaning in the struggle against infectious disease, as researchers pit one microbial enemy of human beings against another.

“Until recently, the strategy has largely trained on using viruses to kill dangerous bacteria. These bacteriophages—or simply, “phages,” as the viruses are known—might be one solution to the increasing problem of antibiotic resistance in a number of worrisome bacterial strains. The phages hijack a specific type of bacteria, injecting their own viral DNA into the microbes. The code instructs a bacterium to make endless copies of the virus until the germ explodes, which spreads the virus to the next target, and so on. (No one said biology wasn’t brutal.)

“The approach, believe it or not, is an old one: In the 1940s, before the widespread use of antibiotics, Eli Lilly sold phages that were targeted against germs ranging from staphylococci to streptococci to E. coli. For those inclined, here’s a fascinating mini-review on phage history.

“(And in a side note that speaks to the wonder and importance of basic science: It was by studying bacteria’s defense against these ravaging phages that scientists discovered the gene-editing technique, CRISPR Cas-9. For a discussion of that, see our Oct. 26 Brainstorm Health Daily.)

“But now, in the fight against Zika, the battle lines are being redrawn—with bacteria going on the attack against the mosquito-carried virus. Scientists are studying how to use a group of bacteria called Wolbachia, which normally prey on insects (and are considered harmless to humans) to infect mosquitoes that carry Zika—homing in on the bugs’ reproductive systems and making them infertile.

“The strategy is not without precedent. A research team in Australia has used Wolbachia to limit the ability of certain mosquitoes to carry dengue fever, which sickens more than 50 million people a year. You can find great articles on the effort here and here. Meanwhile, another laboratory group at the University of Kentucky has licensed its “Wolbachia-based biotechnology”—which targets the reproductive ability of male Asian Tiger mosquitoes—to a company that is awaiting regulatory approval for its product. (The company already has an experimental use permit for a limited trial in California.)

“So who gives the nod to these new anti-infective weapons? Not the FDA, mind you, but rather the EPA: the Environmental Protection Agency. Yes, it’s a brave new healthcare world.”

Source: Fortune

November 13, 2016: The Effects of Zika on Babies' Brains Go Beyond Microcephaly, Report Finds

“A new report highlights the range of damage Zika infection can cause a developing fetus.

“Microcephaly, a neurological condition in which babies are born with abnormally small heads, is perhaps the most well-known disorder associated with the virus. But other abnormalities, including a collapsed skull, eye scarring, severe muscle tension, and brain calcifications, can also ensue when an expectant mother is infected. These are collectively called congenital Zika syndrome.

“The report, published Thursday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, draws on previously published studies on how Zika affects the brain. A paper published in August also examined, with arresting images, the havoc Zika wreaks on the developing human brain and body. The virus has been shown to shrink brain regions involved in movement control and vision. Some babies die before delivery or soon after birth.”

The “entire abstract”: by Cynthia A. Moore, J. Erin Staples and William B. Dobyns can be found here.

Source: FOX NEWS Health

November 12, 2016: Computer Models Help Forecast Spread of Zika Virus

“With about 60 countries and territories worldwide reporting active Zika virus transmission, predicting the global spread of the mosquito-borne illness has been challenging for public health officials.

“However, researchers are leveraging large-scale computational models that integrate socio-demographic and travel data as well as simulations of infection transmission—requiring the computing power of 30,000 processors simultaneously—to project the path of the disease.

“The Global Epidemic and Mobility (GLEaM) model has been used in the past to simulate the spread of Ebola, H1N1 flu, and other outbreaks on a worldwide scale. However, in forecasting Zika, researchers have relied more on the historical patterns of mosquito-borne diseases such as chikungunya and dengue.

“While the Zika virus can also be transmitted sexually, their computer model does not take that mode of transmission into consideration. They describe the Zika virus epidemic as “characterized by slow growth and high spatial and seasonal heterogeneity, attributable to the dynamics of the mosquito vector and to the characteristics and mobility of the human populations.”

“In fact, mosquitoes bring an added level of difficulty to the equation, given the uncertainty of their travel behaviors, abundance and lifecycle depending on temperature, as well as the relationship between Zika and its host mosquitoes.

“According to Alessandro Vespignani, professor of physics and director of the Network Science Institute at Northeastern University, what makes Zika such a challenge to track and predict is that as many as 80 percent of people infected with the virus are asymptomatic, and it is primarily transmitted by mosquitoes and spread internationally through travel.

“But by combining real-world data on populations, human mobility and climate with elaborate stochastic models of disease transmission, a team of 14 researchers—half drawn from Northeastern—has devised projections for the number of Zika cases in the Americas through January 2017.

“’Whatever the disease surveillance systems tell us, it is just the tip of the iceberg,’ contends Vespignani. ‘What they are able to monitor and detect is much less than what is the reality of the gestation in many places.’

“The good news is that modeling algorithms do not predict very large Zika outbreaks in the continental United States, according to Vespignani. While the state of Florida has had the highest risk for Zika transmission, he notes that researchers ‘project at most a total of a few hundred cases in Florida in the next three months’ and ‘in other places of the continental U.S., there are very minimal probabilities of a few cases.’

“This downward pressure on the spread of Zika is being aided by the end of mosquito season which is reliant on weather conditions. Mosquitoes multiply fastest in tropical and sub-tropical habitats, and dropping temperatures this fall and into winter are unfavorable for mosquitoes to thrive.

“’At this point, Florida and the Gulf Coast are approaching the winter season. And although it’s not as cold as in the northeastern U.S., it’s not as good for mosquitoes,’ says Vespignani. ‘The models indicate that by January and February the number of new Zika cases should be declining drastically.’

“Still, there is continued bad news for the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, which has been ravaged by the virus, and, if current trends continue, as many as 25 percent of the population of almost 3.5 million will become infected with Zika by the end of the year.

“Like chikungunya and dengue, Vespignani says Zika isn’t a threat that is going away anytime soon, and he predicts that it will come in waves as a seasonal phenomenon. “The main question now is what will happen in Asia and Africa?” he concludes, where more than 2 billion people could be at risk from contracting the virus.

“In addition to Northeastern University, the research team modeling Zika included the University of Florida in Gainesville, Fla., Bruno Kessler Foundation in Trento, Italy, Bocconi University in Milan, Italy, Institute for Scientific Interchange Foundation in Torino, Italy, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle and the University of Washington.”

Source: HealthData Management

November 11, 2016: Is Zika Coming Soon to a Mosquito Near You?

This from Brit McCandless.

“If there’s anyone who knows how to avoid getting the Zika virus, it’s Dr. Jon LaPook. He’s been slathering himself with insect repellents for the past year while reporting on the Zika pandemic and its devastating effects on infants.

“Doused in DEET from head to toe, LaPook reported from Brazil and Puerto Rico, two epicenters of the outbreak. He also conducted interviews about Zika with the director of the CDC, Tom Frieden, and the head of infectious diseases at the NIH, Anthony Fauci. And yet, LaPook still wound up getting a mosquito bite while he was being filmed live during one reporting trip.

“’Eighty percent of people who get infected with Zika have no symptoms, and it’s possible I was one of those people,’ he says now.

“But it’s no longer just people in the Caribbean and South America who have cause to worry about the virus. As LaPook reports this week, there are diagnosed Zika cases in every U.S. state but Alaska, with about 200 cases of local transmission in Florida alone.

“What does that mean for Americans living in the continental US who wonder, when will the Zika virus come to the mosquitos in my backyard?

“As LaPook tells 60 Minutes Overtime, the mosquito that commonly carries the Zika virus is the Aedes aegypti. The CDC map above shows the range of the Aedes aegypti mosquito in the U.S., and LaPook notes that the mosquito doesn’t live above an elevation of 6,500 feet. To become a threat, it’s not enough for the mosquito to exist in any given area—the local mosquitos must be infected with the Zika virus.

“How do local populations of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in, say, California or Ohio, or New York, become infected with Zika? By biting an infected person, possibly a person who got the virus from traveling to an area where Zika is prevalent.

“’Travelers returning from places where Zika is spreading need to use a mosquito repellent for three weeks so that they don’t inadvertently spread it through a mosquito to their family or neighbors,’ LaPook advises.

“’Zika is a really tough enemy. The fight against it isn’t going to be quick. It isn’t going to be easy.’ Centers for Disease Control Director Tom Frieden
Zika is the first mosquito-borne virus known to cause birth defects. It’s also the first mosquito-borne virus ever known to be sexually transmitted. This factor is significant, especially since Zika can remain in semen for a prolonged period of time — LaPook says there have been some cases where the virus remained for six months.

“That’s where men play a large role in spreading the disease. If a middle-aged man contracts the virus and is asymptomatic, he can still transmit it by infecting a mosquito that bites him, or by infecting a partner through sexual contact. Even if that partner doesn’t intend to become pregnant, he or she could still infect a mosquito, which could then bite others.

“’It’s a ping-ponging game,’ LaPook says. ‘It’s really a double whammy.’

“The impact of the Zika on a developing fetus can be devastating. And LaPook says many health care professionals feel that the general public is not adequately informed or prepared to prevent the spread of the virus throughout the continental United States.

“’There is this disconnect between how serious a potential problem this is and the reaction that’s happened,’ says LaPook.

“LaPook suspects that Americans won’t be terribly concerned about Zika until they begin to see babies in their own communities or families with severe Zika-related birth defects. ‘It’s up to the government, I think, and up to health professionals to say, ‘You know what? This is actually something you should worry about,’ says LaPook.

“Centers for Disease Control Director Tom Frieden is already sounding the alarm. ‘Zika is a really tough enemy,’ he says. ‘The fight against it isn’t going to be quick. It isn’t going to be easy.’”

Source: 60 Minutes Overtime

November 11, 2016: Human Trials Begin for Army-Developed Zika Vaccine

A Veterans Day shout out to those who serve — above and beyond, from Mosquito Squad

“A clinical trial began here Monday at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, where 75 participating healthy adults were vaccinated with a Zika virus vaccine that the institute’s scientists developed earlier this year, Walter Reed officials announced Tuesday.

“The Phase 1 trial will test the safety and immunogenicity — the ability of the vaccine to trigger an immune response in the body — of the purified, inactivated Zika virus vaccine called ZPIV. The vaccine is being tested at WRAIR’s Clinical Trial Center in Silver Spring, Maryland.

“’The Army has moved efficiently from recognizing Zika virus as a threat, producing ZPIV for use in animals and demonstrating its effectiveness in mice and monkeys, producing ZPIV for human testing, and now initiating clinical trials to establish its safety and build the case for subsequent efficacy trials,’ Army Col. (Dr.) Nelson Michael, director of WRAIR’s Military HIV Research Program, or MHRP, and Zika program co-lead, said in a statement.

“Efficacy refers to the vaccine’s ability to demonstrate a health effect when tested in a clinical trial.

“’All of this,’ he added, ‘was done in 10 months.’

“Dr. Kayvon Modjarrad, Zika program co-lead and associate director for emerging infectious disease threats at WRAIR’s MHRP, said the Army was able to move so quickly in developing, manufacturing and testing a Zika vaccine ‘because of its extensive experience with this vaccine platform and longstanding investments in the understanding and mitigation of flaviviruses like yellow fever, dating back to the founding of WRAIR.’

“For service members, there are concerns about infection during deployment and travel, but also in the continental United States, where most military installations are concentrated in southern states. There, climate conditions and mosquito populations favor Zika transmission, WRAIR officials say.

As of Nov. 2, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 149 cases of Zika infection were confirmed in the military health system, including four pregnant service members and one pregnant family member.

“Zika infection during pregnancy, the CDC says, can cause a birth defect of the brain called microcephaly and other severe fetal brain defects.

“Other problems have been detected among fetuses and infants infected with Zika virus before birth, such as defects of the eye, hearing deficits and impaired growth. And reports have increased about Guillain-Barré syndrome, an uncommon sickness of the nervous system, in areas affected by Zika, CDC says.

“But even Zika infections without symptoms ‘can lead to severe birth defects and neurological complications,’ Zika study principal investigator Army Maj. (Dr.) Leyi Lin said, adding, ‘A safe and effective Zika vaccine that prevents infection in those at risk is a global public-health priority.’

“Flaviviruses like Zika are found mainly in mosquitoes and ticks and cause widespread morbidity and mortality worldwide. Other mosquito-transmitted viruses that are members of the flavivirus genus include yellow fever, or YF, dengue fever, Japanese encephalitis, or JE, and West Nile viruses, according to the CDC web page.

“’We want to assess the safety and immune response of the ZPIV vaccine in JE and yellow fever YF vaccine recipients because these vaccines may alter the response to the ZPIV vaccine,’ Lin said.

“‘Uniquely,’ he added, ‘illness as a result of natural infection from JE, YF or Zika could be more severe when prior flavivirus infection or vaccination exists. Our study assesses co-vaccination to learn how to reduce risk when protecting against circulating flaviviruses.’

“This is important for service members who are vaccinated against other flaviviruses and then stationed in or deployed to areas where Zika is becoming endemic, WRAIR scientists say.

“WRAIR’s inactivated flavivirus vaccine platform was the same technology the institute used to create its Japanese encephalitis vaccine, licensed in 2009.

“An earlier preclinical study found that rhesus monkeys vaccinated with ZPIV developed a strong immune response and were protected against two strains of Zika virus.

“The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, or NIAID, part of the National Institutes of Health, helped identify the viral strain used in the ZPIV vaccine, supported the preclinical safety testing and is sponsoring the conduct of this trial.

WRAIR, NIAID and the Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, have established a joint research collaboration agreement to support the vaccine’s development.

“The Pilot Bioproduction Facility at WRAIR manufactured the ZPIV vaccine being used in Phase 1 clinical studies, and the Army recently signed a cooperative research and development agreement to transfer the ZPIV technology to Sanofi Pasteur to explore larger scale manufacturing and advanced development. BARDA recently awarded a six-year contract to Sanofi Pasteur to further develop this vaccine to licensure, according to the WRAIR release.

“WRAIR’s ZPIV candidate also will soon be part of an NIH trial that began in August. The NIH vaccine contains DNA that instructs volunteers’ cells to make certain Zika proteins that then illicit an immune response. As part of that study, WRAIR’s ZPIV vaccine will be given to volunteers as a booster after they receive the NIH DNA vaccine, WRAIR officials say.

“Three more Phase 1 trials using ZPIV are scheduled to begin this year, the WRAIR release noted:

St. Louis University researchers, through the NIAID-funded Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Units network, will examine the optimal dose of the vaccine to be used in larger studies.

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School researchers will evaluate the safety and immune response from a compressed vaccine schedule.

• The Ambulatory Center for Medical Research, part of Ponce Health Sciences University in Puerto Rico, will examine the vaccine’s safety and immune response in participants who have already been naturally exposed to Zika or dengue viruses.

“The WRAIR trial that began Monday is sponsored by NIAID and funded by the Army and the Defense Department.”

Source: U.S. Army

November 10, 2016: What's Being Done to Fight the Zika Virus?

One of the world’s most frightening viruses has reached the U.S. Dr. Jon LaPook speaks with the country’s top scientists about the fight against Zika

“The presidential election may have pushed the Zika virus off the front page, but Zika is not going away. It’s spreading. Dr. Jon LaPook, on assignment for 60 Minutes, has been tracking the Zika virus and the American government’s efforts to control it.

“The first time most Americans heard about the Zika virus was when it was breaking out in Brazil last winter. Hundreds of babies were born with catastrophic brain damage called microcephaly. The question for Americans has been when, not if, it would break out here. Well, now it has. Already, there are more than 30,000 diagnosed Zika cases, most of those in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, but also in every state but Alaska. And because it is now known Zika can be transmitted through mosquitoes, blood and sex, that number is expected to rise.

“In September, after eight months of political deadlock, Congress finally approved $1.1 billion to fight the virus. Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of infectious diseases at the National Institutes of Health, says the delay is an example of what worries him most about Zika.”

See the complete televised script here.

November 9, 2016: Zika Funding Available from CDC

“The CDC has announced that it will be providing $25 million in funding to respond to potential Zika virus disease outbreak to 53 state, territorial, and local health departments to support accelerated Zika public health preparedness and operation readiness. The CDC will review the funding request and award funding based on the following considerations:

• Actual ongoing local transmission or high risk of local transmission in the jurisdiction
• Presence of Aedes aegypti or other competent vector in the jurisdiction
• Number of travel-associated cases in the jurisdiction
• Spending rate of currently awarded PHPR Zika funds

Deadline to apply for this funding is November 11, 2016 at 11:59 PM EST.

Source: CDC

November 8, 2016: Miami Beach Asks FDA for Emergency Permission to Release Anti-Zika GMO Mosquitoes

Aerial pesticide spraying has not eradicated the Zika virus in Miami Beach so far, adding fuel to critics who have warned all along that buildings are too tall and ocean breezes too strong for that method to work there.

“So the city is resorting to less conventional methods: Officials have now asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to give emergency permission for Miami Beach to release genetically modified mosquitoes to kill off the Zika-carrying bugs.

“City Manager Jimmy Morales writes in a new letter to the Miami Beach Commission that the city has filed a request with the feds to ‘release … genetically engineered mosquito in Miami Beach.’ So far, though, the FDA isn’t allowing the request.

“On October 19, Robert M. Califf, the FDA’s food and drug commissioner, sent Morales a letter denying the request for an “Emergency Use Authorization” in order to use the bugs, which are engineered by the British biotechnology firm Oxitec.

“While he denied the request, Califf didn’t say that Miami Beach is banned from using the mosquitoes outright. Instead, he said the FDA does not have the authority to issue such an order, and instead encouraged Miami Beach to get its mosquitoes directly from Oxitec.

“’We suggest you contact Oxitec directly should you be interested in pursuing an investigational release of the company’s GE mosquitoes,’ Califf writes.

“It’s not clear whether the city will go straight to Oxitec to try to get the GMO mosquitos; a city spokesperson did not respond New Times questions for this story before press time.

Source: Miami New Times

November 6, 2016: Zika Virus Could Cause Infertility in Men

“The Zika virus could cause infertility in men, a new study suggests.

“Scientists in the US discovered that mice infected with Zika had shrunken testicles, low testosterone levels and low sperm counts.

“Although the findings have not yet been replicated in humans, experts say that the virus may also have worrying conseqences for men who become infected.

“Dr. Michael Diamond, of the University of Washington, who co-authored the study, said: ‘While our study was in mice, and with the caveat that we don’t yet know whether Zika has the same effect in men, it does suggest that men might face low testosterone levels and low sperm counts after Zika infection, affecting their fertility.’

“’We don’t know for certain if the damage is irreversible, but I expect so, because the cells that hold the internal structure in place have been infected and destroyed.’

“The research is the first to link Zika to male infertility. Previously it was though that the virus, which is passed on through mosquito bites, was only dangerous for pregnant women, because it can lead to babies being born with shrunken heads and brain damage, a condition known as microcephaly. In rare cases it can also lead to Guillain-Barre syndrome which can cause paralysis and lead to death.

“According to Public Health England (PHE), some 244 British people have contracted the virus since the current outbreak from travelling abroad, but they did not have records for how many were men.

“The study authors say men may not realise they are infertile until many years after infection.

“’This is the only virus I know of that causes such severe symptoms of infertility,’ said co-author Dr. Kelle Moley, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Washington.

“’You might also ask, ’Wouldn’t a man notice if his testicles shrank?’ Well, probably. But we don’t really know how the severity in men might compare with the severity in mice. I assume that something is happening to the testes of men, but whether it’s as dramatic as in the mice is hard to say.’

“British experts said the findings coincided with reports that men infected with Zika suffered from pelvic pain and blood in their urine. The effects are similar to those seen following human infection with other sexually transmitted infections.”

Source: The Telegraph

November 5, 2016: Colombia Is Hit Hard by Zika, but Not by Microcephaly

“The tropical city of Barranquilla, Colombia, on the Caribbean coast may hold the answer to one of the deeper mysteries of the Zika epidemic: Why has the world’s second-largest outbreak, after Brazil’s, produced so few birth defects?

“In Brazil, more than 2,000 babies have been born with microcephaly, abnormally small heads and brain damage caused by the Zika virus. In Colombia, officials had predicted there might be as many as 700 such babies by the end of this year. There have been merely 47.

“The gap has been seen all over the Americas. According to the World Health Organization, the United States has 28 cases — almost all linked to women infected elsewhere. Guatemala has 15, and Martinique has 12.

“Had the rest of the Americas been as affected as northeastern Brazil, a tidal wave of microcephaly would be washing over the region. Most experts say that will not happen, but they are at a loss as to why.

“There are some obvious differences between Colombia’s epidemic and Brazil’s. The population here is less than a quarter that of Brazil, and almost half of its residents live at higher altitudes, where mosquitoes are rarer.

“And Zika circulated silently for much longer in Brazil. The virus arrived there by early 2014, and not in Colombia until late 2015. Having just fought a severe chikungunya epidemic in 2014, Colombia was more ready than Brazil to send forth the anti-mosquito battalions.

“But all that does not seem sufficient to explain the disparity. Increasingly, there is evidence for two other possibilities.

“Pregnant women here, alerted to the tragedy unfolding in Brazil, may have sought abortions in greater numbers, officials say. Others seem to have heeded the government’s controversial advice to delay pregnancy altogether.

“Dr. Miguel Parra-Saavedra, the director of maternal-fetal medicine at the Cedifetal Clinic in Barranquilla and one of the country’s leading high-risk pregnancy specialists, is among the experts who suspect many pregnant women in Colombia, alarmed by news reports, sought ultrasounds and aborted deformed fetuses.

“Some of his own patients have done so.

Dr. Parra-Saavedra heads a study of Zika-related birth defects in cooperation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the course of the research thus far, he has diagnosed 13 cases of fetal microcephaly.

“Dr. Miguel Parra-Saavedra said many Colombian women had abortions after getting ultrasounds. Credit Katie Orlinsky for The New York Times
Four of the mothers terminated their pregnancies immediately, he said. Another four, and possibly a fifth, sought abortions but were turned down by their health insurance companies.

“Only four patients, Dr. Parra-Saavedra said, deliberately chose to have their babies.

Among those who tried to have an abortion was Zuleima, a 37-year-old mother of two healthy daughters.

“When she and her husband Jaime, 47, an unemployed mine-machinery operator, learned that their unborn daughter was microcephalic, they requested what is here called ‘pregnancy interruption.’

“Abortion is legal in Colombia to protect a mother’s health, and the health ministry considers a severely deformed baby a threat to maternal mental well-being.”

Source: New York Times

November 4, 2016: Vaccinating Against Dengue May Increase Zika Outbreaks

Vaccinating against dengue fever could increase outbreaks of Zika, suggests new research. The study identifies a potentially serious public health concern. More than a third of the world’s population lives in areas where dengue is endemic and cases of co-infection with Zika have already been reported.

“The research identifies a potentially serious public health concern. More than a third of the world’s population lives in areas where dengue is endemic and cases of co-infection with Zika have already been reported

“Conducted at York University’s Laboratory for Industrial and Applied Mathematics using mathematical modelling, the research was led by Biao Tang, an exchange PhD student from Xi’an Jiaotong University, in collaboration with York Professor Jianhong Wu and Tang’s supervisor, Professor Yanni Xiao at Xi’an Jiaotong University. As dengue and Zika are both part of the Flaviviridae family transmitted through a common mosquito host, the researchers wanted to know how vaccinating for one would affect the incidence of the other.

“’Vaccinating against one virus could not only affect the control of another virus, it could in fact make it easier for the other to spread,’ says Wu. ‘Recent evidence suggests that dengue virus antibodies can enhance the Zika virus infection. For that reason, we developed a new math model to investigate the effect of dengue vaccination on Zika outbreaks.’

“The paper, ‘Implication of vaccination against dengue for Zika outbreak,’ was published in Scientific Reports.

“The team’s model shows that vaccinations for dengue increase the number of people contracting Zika. It also shows that the more people in a particular population that are vaccinated against dengue, the earlier and larger the Zika outbreak. The research also found that the most effective way to minimize the unintended effect of dengue vaccinations on Zika outbreaks is through an integrated strategy that includes mosquito control.

“’We concluded that vaccination against dengue among humans can significantly boost Zika transmission among the population and hence call for further study on integrated control measures on controlling dengue and Zika outbreak,’ says Xiao.

“The researchers note their findings do not discourage the development and promotion of dengue vaccine products, however, more work needs to be done to understand how to optimize dengue vaccination programs and minimize the risk of Zika outbreaks.

“According to the World Health Organization, the global incidence of dengue has grown dramatically in recent decades, with about half of the world’s population now at risk. In some Asian and Latin American countries, severe dengue is a leading cause of serious illness and death among children. Whereas the outbreaks of Zika have occurred in Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific, and has been linked to microcephaly and Guillain-Barré syndrome. Although vaccines for dengue have been developed and are in use, there is no vaccine for Zika.”

Source: Science Daily

November 3, 2016: Zika May Harm Male Reproduction, Mouse Study Suggests

Weeks after infection mice had shrunken testicles and lower levels of sex hormones

The “Zika virus”: attacks cells in mouse testes crucial for sperm and sex hormone generation and hampers reproduction, according to new research that raises the possibility that the virus could affect fertility in men.

There are major caveats to the research which was published Monday in the journal Nature. The study was conducted in mice, and many findings from mouse studies do not hold up in people. The researchers also used a very powerful dose of Zika when infecting the mice.

And even if the same outcomes bear out in people, researchers have no idea what percentage of men who contract Zika would be affected or just how damaging the infection could be. Many men, for example, can see a drop in their sperm count without having a harder time conceiving a child.

But the findings were enough for the paper’s authors to call for further study of the issue in men who have contracted Zika to determine whether the virus affects the male reproductive tract over time.

“This is what we see in mice,” said Dr. Michael Diamond, a viral immunologist at Washington University School of Medicine and senior author of the paper. “How much of this applies to humans? That’s the key question that needs to be addressed in longitudinal studies.”

Nikos Vasilakis, a Zika expert at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston who was not involved with the new work, praised the research and said it warranted additional studies in monkeys and possibly finding a group of infected men to study.

“The key is, would that translate as well in humans?” Vasilakis said about the study’s findings.

Little was known about Zika until doctors in northeastern Brazil witnessed a spike in microcephaly, or underdeveloped brains and heads, in newborns last year. Since then, researchers have discovered that the mosquito-borne virus can cause that and other congenital defects when it infects a pregnant woman and her fetus, as well as apparent neurological conditions in rare cases in adults.

Beyond that, though, Zika has been thought to be harmless in most people. The majority don’t even show symptoms, and those who do experience a few days of rash and fever.

But Zika has some puzzling characteristics that have led scientists to question how else it may affect people. In this case, Diamond and his team decided to look at parts of the male reproductive tract because the virus can also be sexually transmitted—unlike other viruses spread by mosquitoes—and because scientists had seen lasting infections in both human semen and in mouse testes.

The researchers found that Zika targeted two specific cell types in mice: spermatogonia, which make sperm, and Sertoli cells, which are involved in helping sperm develop and sheltering them from the blood and immune system, building what’s called the blood-testis barrier. Overall, compared with uninfected mice, infected mice saw drops in the number of those cells; in the levels of two sex hormones, testosterone and inhibin B; and in the number of sperm.

When the mice mated, the infected males had a harder time getting females pregnant and produced fewer viable fetuses than uninfected males. The virus also seemed to shrink the infected mice’s testes and damage tissue in the epididymis, a small tube that transports sperm.

There is no vaccine or drug for Zika at the moment, but if public health experts find that the virus can undermine sperm production and function in men, it could expand the market for treatments.

If a man contracted Zika and was able to take an antiviral treatment quickly, for example, it could block the infection before it did much damage to the reproductive tract.

“It would mean we were much more aggressive about treatment,” Diamond said.

As of now, it’s not clear if any groups are specifically studying if Zika has an impact on male fertility. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a number of studies underway looking at the virus’s persistence in semen, which could reveal how it affects sperm health, an agency spokesman said.

Source: Scientific American

November 2, 2016: Myanmar Confirms First Case of Zika Virus Infection

“Zika has spread to some 60 countries and territories since the current outbreak was identified last year in Brazil, raising alarm over the rare birth defect microcephaly as well as other neurological disorders it can cause in infants and adults.

“’A foreign woman in Yangon who is pregnant was found to have contracted Zika virus and further examination is being carried out,’ MRTV reported without giving further details.

“Information Ministry spokesman Myint Kyaw told Reuters it was the first Zika case confirmed in Myanmar. Two Myanmar citizens, one living in Singapore and one in Thailand, were identified as infected with the virus in September.

“Brazil has been the country hardest hit so far, with more than 1,900 reported cases of microcephaly, a condition marked by abnormally small heads that can lead to developmental problems.

“Singapore and Thailand – Southeast Asia’s most affected countries – have recorded a total of about 800 cases of Zika, including dozens of pregnant women.

“Dr. Nyan Win Myint, an official of Myanmar’s Ministry of Health, told Reuters earlier this month that screening measures at international airports had been stepped up.

“’We’ve been conducting extensive awareness campaigns and anti-mosquito measures across the country by coordinating and cooperating with other ministries and the media. We’re doing this together with anti-dengue measures,’ he said at the time.

“He said monitoring of birth defects in babies was being carried out at 17 main hospitals throughout the country in cooperation with the World Health Organization. No evidence of the birth of Zika-affected babies had been reported by then.

“There is no treatment or vaccine for Zika infection. Companies and scientists are racing to develop a safe and effective vaccine for Zika, but a preventative shot is not expected to be ready for widespread use for at least two or three years.

Source: FOX News

November 1, 2016: Zika in 30 Seconds: What You Need to Know Today

Have 30 seconds? Here’s what you need to know about the Zika virus.

• The private sector is stepping in to provide funding for anti-Zika efforts, as public money falls short (USA Today)

• Scientists are baffled by how Zika has played out in Latin America, in particular by the pattern of babies born with Zika-related microcephaly (Washington Post)

• Mosquitoes infected with the Wolbachia bacteria will be released in an attempt to combat diseases spread by the insects, including Zika (STAT)

• In times of economic crisis, diseases like Zika thrive (_STAT_"Link text":

• A consortium of 25 universities and public health institutions has launched ZikaPLAN to combat the virus. Among its goals is to fill in knowledge gaps and build sustainable response capacity in Latin America for Zika and other emerging diseases (press release)

• Florida has another Zika “hot zone,” but some fear it’s not getting enough attention (AP)

Source: STAT News

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