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Blog | May 2017

May 22, 2017: Zika Babies Negatively Impacted by Trump

Although one of Donald Trump’s first acts as president was reinstating the Global Gag Rule, on Monday his administration announced it had expanded the policy targeting non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that provide family planning services.

The Global Gag Rule, also known as the Mexico City Policy, blocks any U.S. Agency for International Development funding from going not only to organizations and clinics that perform abortions, but even agencies that merely give patients information about abortions. In spite of the fact that no U.S. funding goes toward paying abortion, Trump decided to reinstate the Global Gag Rule while framing it as a pro-life venture with the title Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance.

The Global Gag Rule has been rearing its head since 1984, when Ronald Reagan instated it. Republican presidents have maintained and reinstated it, while Democratic president have rescinded it. However, critics argue that Trump’s version of the Global Gag Rule is even more far-reaching than any previous president’s.

With Trump’s plan, roughly $8.8 billion of global health funds coming from the Department of Defense, the State Department, and USAID will be blocked from clinics abroad that provide family planning services, such as offering birth control and HIV/AIDS prevention as well as maternal health, primary care, and Zika treatment. The effects of this span even wider than the rule under George W. Bush, which prohibited $600 million in family planning funds.

While the effects of the Global Gag Rule on maternal death rates and increased abortion rates is of top concern, it could also greatly affect Zika response efforts.

“By targeting not only family planning programs but all global health programs including those that address Zika response efforts and other health and disease areas, this policy threatens to gut funding for many of the most effective and well-positioned health organizations in more than 60 low and middle income countries,” Lori Adelman, the global communications director for the U.S. sector of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPFF), tells Bustle in an email.

May 20, 2017: Scientists to Test Whether Zika Can Kill Brain Cancer Cells

Scientists in Britain plan to harness the Zika virus to try to kill brain tumor cells in experiments that they say could lead to new ways to fight an aggressive type of cancer.

The research will focus on glioblastoma, the most common form of brain cancer, which has a five-year survival rate of barely 5 percent.

Zika causes severe disability in babies by attacking developing stem cells in the brain – but in adults, whose brains are fully formed, it often causes no more than mild flu-like symptoms.

In glioblastoma, the cancer cells are similar to those in the developing brain, suggesting that the virus could be used to target them while sparing normal adult brain tissue.

Experts say existing treatments have to be given at low doses to avoid damaging healthy tissue.

Researchers led by Harry Bulstrode at Cambridge University will use tumor cells in the lab and in mice to assess Zika’s potential.

The mosquito-borne virus has spread to more than 60 countries and territories in a global outbreak that was first identified in Brazil in 2015.

“Zika virus infection in babies and children is a major global health concern, and the focus has been to discover more about the virus to find new possible treatments,” Bulstrode said in a statement.

“We hope to show that the Zika virus can slow down brain tumor growth in tests in the lab,” Bulstrode added. “If we can learn lessons from Zika’s ability to cross the blood-brain barrier and target brain stem cells selectively, we could be holding the key to future treatments.”

Source: Reuters

May 5, 2017: A Speedy, Sensitive, and Low-Cost Detection Test for Zika Virus

A fast, highly sensitive, and inexpensive new test not only detects Zika virus in mosquitoes and human bodily fluids, but can also distinguish between African and Asian strains — a result that could improve efforts to more effectively track the virus’ spread.

The Asian-lineage strain of Zika virus, which has been implicated in causing severe birth defects such as microcephaly, rapidly infiltrated the Americas after its introduction in 2015, transmitted by mosquito species in the genus Aedes.

According to recent Centers for Disease Control estimates, 5,238 cases of Zika virus infection have been reported in the United States, 223 of which were presumed to have been acquired locally.

Nunya Chotiwan et al. devised an assay to directly detect Zika virus from mosquitoes and several different types of unprocessed clinical samples (including human blood, saliva, and semen). They amplified Zika virus genomes using a specialized technique called LAMP, an approach that proved comparably sensitive to the current gold-standard detection method, qRT-PCR.

Unlike qRT-PCR, however, LAMP does not require costly reagents. Importantly, LAMP did not yield false-positives for closely-related pathogens such as Dengue virus and Chikungunya virus. The researchers validated the LAMP test using virus artificially spiked into materials obtained from healthy individuals, and also in clinical specimens collected from confirmed cases of Zika virus infection. LAMP was also sufficiently sensitive to identify one single infected mosquito from a collection pool of 50 uninfected insects.

The authors say that LAMP’s minimal processing requirements and accelerated turnaround time will be valuable for Zika virus surveillance and control.

Source: Outbreak News Today

May 3, 2017: Zika Epidemic in U.S. Could Be a Costly Scenario

An outbreak of the mosquito-borne Zika virus in the United States could be very costly, a new study warns.

“This is a threat that has not gone away. Zika is still spreading silently and we are just now approaching mosquito season in the United States, which has the potential of significantly increasing the spread,” said study leader Dr. Bruce Lee. He is an associate professor in the department of international health at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“There’s still a lot we don’t know about the virus, but it is becoming clear that more resources will be needed to protect public health. Understanding what a Zika epidemic might look like, however, can really help us with planning and policy making as we prepare,” Lee said in a Hopkins news release.

In the study, computer models of outbreaks in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas suggest that even a mild Zika outbreak, with an infection rate of only 0.01 percent, could lead to more than 7,000 infections and $183 million in medical costs and lost productivity.

More severe outbreaks could strain the bank, the study findings suggest.

The impact of a 1 percent infection rate could reach $1.2 billion, while a 10 percent infection rate could cost more than $10.3 billion, the researchers found.

The states included in the analysis have the highest populations of Aedes aegypti, the mosquito most likely to carry and spread the Zika virus, the study authors noted.

Last year, Congress approved just over $1 billion for mosquito-control efforts and Zika vaccine development, as well as for emergency health care for Puerto Rico, where more than 35,000 people have been affected by the virus, the researchers said.

“Without details regarding the Zika-prevention measures that would be implemented and how effective these may be, it is unclear what percentage of these costs may be averted,” Lee said.

“But our model shows it is very likely that preventing an epidemic — or at least finding ways to slow one down — would save money, especially since epidemics like Zika have hidden costs that aren’t always considered,” he added.

There is no treatment or vaccine for Zika. Most infected people have only mild symptoms, but the virus can cause severe, neurological birth defects that include microcephaly, where a baby is born with a smaller-than-normal head and an underdeveloped brain. The virus can also trigger a nervous system disease called Guillain-Barre syndrome.

In the United States, 5,264 people had been infected with Zika as of April 26, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Meanwhile, 1,762 pregnant women had tested positive for the virus, while 58 babies have been born with Zika-related birth defects as of April 11, the agency reported.

Source: Tucson.com

May 2, 2017: Senate Committee Unanimously Approves King-Authored Bill to Combat Spread of Zika Virus

On April 26, 2017, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee unanimously approved the Strengthening Mosquito Abatement for Safety and Health (SMASH) Act, bipartisan legislation introduced by Senator Angus King (I-Maine) that would help give states and localities the tools they need to fight back against mosquitos and the viruses they carry. The bill will now be sent to the full Senate for its consideration.

The HELP Committee’s unanimously approval of the legislation, which is also cosponsored by Senators Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), comes in the wake of a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that said one in 10 pregnant women confirmed with the Zika virus gave birth to a child with virus-related birth defects. It also comes ahead of the warm summer months when mosquitos carrying the virus are expected to transfer

In considering the legislation today, HELP Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said the bill “will be very critical in our efforts to combat the Zika virus.”

“This is a positive step forward in the ongoing work to prepare for the fight against the Zika virus as we move into the warmer summer months,” Senator King said. “And states and localities are where the battle can most effectively be fought. As we know, Maine has been fighting insect-borne diseases like Lyme for decades. Now, with the CDC outlining the serious and growing dangers of this virus, it’s critical that Congress move in an expedited manner to provide states with the funding they need for mosquito abatement efforts. I hope the Senate can quickly pass this common-sense bill.”

More specifically, the Strengthening Mosquito Abatement for Safety and Health (SMASH) Act would reauthorize critical public health tools that support states and localities in their mosquito surveillance and control efforts, especially those linked to mosquitos that carry the Zika virus, and improve the nation’s preparedness for Zika and other mosquito-borne threats.

Zika is a mosquito-borne infectious disease that is primarily transmitted to humans by the female yellow fever (A. aegypti) and Asian tiger (A. albopictus) mosquitos. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recently said that 44 states reported cases of pregnant women with evidence of Zika in 2016, has linked the Zika virus to serious health condition, including birth defects in infants such as microcephaly as well as neurological disorders.

Despite the very real and imminent threat posed by Zika, the United States remains woefully unprepared to prevent and address the spread of the virus. To help change that, the SMASH Act takes the following three immediate steps to combat the threat of Zika and other mosquito-borne diseases:

Strengthens our ability to respond to Zika by reauthorizing and improving mosquito control: The legislation reauthorizes and makes targeted improvements to the lapsed Mosquito Abatement Safety and Health (MASH) Act, which was enacted in 2003 in response to the West Nile virus. It also authorizes increased support for state and local mosquito control work – efforts that are critical for controlling and reducing the mosquitos that spread infectious diseases. Under the bill, up to $100 million in grants will be authorized each year in addition to matching funds to state and local governments.

Improves public health preparedness through laboratory research: The legislation reauthorizes the epidemiology laboratory capacity grants under the Public Health Service Act, which support state and local health departments in surveillance for, and response to, infectious diseases, including Zika. Laboratory capacity plays a pivotal role in preparation for and response to public health threats.
Inform how we can refine and improve mosquito control: Requires timely study, report, and recommendations by the Government Accountability Office regarding existing mosquito and other vector-borne surveillance and control programs. This analysis will help Congress to identify opportunities to strengthen our public health preparedness programs in partnerships with states and local communities. Ultimately, such analysis will better protect Americans from emerging mosquito-borne infectious diseases. Applying the lessons learned from responses to public health threats is critical for continuing to optimize our nation’s medical and public health preparedness and response.

The legislation has been endorsed by the National Pest Management Association, the American Mosquito Control Association, the Entomological Society of America, the Infectious Diseases Society of America, and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Source: https://www.king.senate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/senate-committee-unanimously-approves-king-authored-bill-to-combat-spread-of-zika-virus

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