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Welcome to the Zika News Source. As the Zika virus continues its impact on the United States, Mosquito Squad knows how important it is to share timely news and tips on how to avoid mosquitoes and the seriously harmful diseases they can bring. Depend on Zika News Source as a trusted source for current news on the Zika virus.

 

April 20, 2017: Research Finds Zika in Second Florida Mosquito

A study out of the University of Florida has put the spotlight back on the Zika virus. In research published in a scientific journal last week, Chelsea Smartt, a molecular biologist at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences in Vero Beach, reported finding Zika RNA in Aedes albopictus mosquitoes in Brazil.

Public health officials suspected that the Aedes albopictus could spread Zika. The research confirms that suspicion.

Aedes aegypti (also known as the yellow fever mosquito) and Aedes albopictus (the Asian tiger mosquito) both abound in Florida, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC doesn’t rule out the threat of Aedes albopictus, but the agency says “because these mosquitoes feed on animals as well as people, they are less likely to spread viruses like Zika, dengue, chikungunya and other viruses.”

As for Palm Beach, Deputy Town Manager Jay Boodheshwar said the information about Aedes albopictus is nothing new.

Boodheshwar said the town in its public messaging has referred to both types of mosquitoes as potential Zika carriers, and said that both are active in Palm Beach. But the town has focused on aegypti “because that is the prevalent mosquito that carries the virus here on the island.”

Now that the annual hot and rainy season is returning, the town is preparing for another larvicide treatment of all catch basins on public property, Boodheshwar said.

The catch basins were treated last fall, but the larvicide tablets are only effective for six months, he said.

The public will be notified when the treatment is scheduled, he said.

State and federal officials said in December that Zika no longer was being actively transmitted in Florida. But public health officials say Zika is likely to return with summer rains.

Tim O’Connor, spokesman for the state Department of Health’s Palm Beach County unit, said the latest research won’t affect the health district’s efforts to fight Zika.

“The main prevention is avoiding mosquito bites,” O’Connor said.

Town Councilwoman Margaret Zeidman, who has helped spearhead Zika education and prevention on the island, said aegypti and albopictus are similar. Both are found in tropical and subtropical habitat. But albopictus, unlike aegypti, tolerates cooler climes, up into the Carolinas and New England, she said.

“It’s everyone’s personal responsibility to protect themselves from mosquito bites and to get rid of containers that might fill with water,” Zeidman said.

Containers that hold water should be turned over or treated with a larvicide, she said. Packets are available at Town Hall. To protect from bites, cover your skin with clothing or apply DEET, which is safe for everyone except babies 2 months old or younger.

Source: Palm Beach Daily News

April 14, 2017: Trump Budget Cuts Threaten Emergency Response to Zika And Other Disease Outbreaks

As a presidential candidate last summer, Donald Trump promised to lead an aggressive fight against the spread of the Zika virus. He urged Congress to fund a proposed $1 billion-plus Zika response plan.

But now, the public health community is expressing strong concerns about President Trump’s commitment to maintaining and strengthening the country’s infectious disease prevention infrastructure.

Many credit Trump’s draft budget, released last month, for proposing the creation of a new federal emergency fund designed to rapidly respond to public health crises. That’s something public health leaders have advocated for years.

Creating such a fund would end the need to call on Congress to provide crisis funding when an infectious disease outbreak occurs, as happened with Ebola and then Zika.

“There could be events quite frankly where (having an established emergency fund) could be the difference between a successful response and a failed response,” said James Blumenstock, chief program officer for Health Security for the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.

Yet the Trump budget lacks details on how much money the administration would appropriate for the proposed emergency fund, or how the president wants to pay for it.

If Trump dedicates new funding, then it has the potential to be a powerful tool to aid prevention and response effort in emergencies, experts say. But if funding comes from cutting other public health programs, they say its potential impact would be greatly reduced.

“Any significant reduction in any program that (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) administers will have a cascading effect on state and local health departments and would result in a reduction in prevention activities in the communities,” Blumenstock said.

Establishing an emergency fund would not be enough to assuage larger concerns among public health experts over Trump’s move to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and impose other domestic spending cuts that could undermine prevention and response efforts.

Included in the president’s draft budget was a proposal to cut the National Institutes of Health by $5.8 billion. The NIH has been the leading funding source for vaccine research and development for several infectious diseases that have had outbreaks in recent years, including Ebola and Zika.

“If you defund the scientific infrastructure in general, all aspects are going to have to suffer and that includes preparedness for new diseases as well as research and therapy for existing diseases,” said Dr. David Freedman, professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Trump’s skepticism about the human-caused sources of climate change is reflected in his proposed 31% cut to the Environmental Protections Agency’s budget, which would force layoffs of an estimated one-fifth of the agency’s workforce. Climate change have been linked to an increased risk of infectious diseases.

Extreme weather events coupled with milder winters as global temperatures rise have created environments that are breeding ground for diseases, including mosquito-borne infections, that traditionally have spread only in the tropics but now are found in the U.S.

“It’s been one of the warmest winters on record, and that’s good for the Aedes Aegypti (mosquito) but not good for us,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of Baylor College of Medicine’s National School of Tropical Medicine. “I’m quite worried that all of that means that it’s going to be a pretty bad Aedes Aegypti season this spring and into the summer, and that means there’s a pretty high risk for a Zika virus transmission.”

Even seemingly unrelated Trump policy decisions could have large public health ramifications. A repeal of the Affordable Care Act would not only mean a loss of health coverage for millions but also would eliminate the CDC’s Prevention and Public Health Fund. Created under ACA, the fund provides more than $930 million for CDC programs, accounting for 12% of the agency’s total annual budget.

A loss of the that funding would mean slashing $40 million from the CDC’s Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity for Infectious Disease Cooperative Agreement program (ELC), which provides funding to public health laboratories around the country to quickly respond to emerging infectious disease threats.

The ELC program receives around half of its annual funding through the ACA’s Prevention and Public Health Fund. Program funds played a crucial role in helping state laboratories rapidly test suspected Zika samples months before Congress approved emergency federal funding last year.

Repealing the ACA and the prevention fund would eliminate ELC’s nimble ability to address public health concerns like Zika before lawmakers can react, said Peter Kyriacopoulos, senior director of public policy at the Association of Public Health Laboratories.

Erasing the prevention fund also would be a big blow to the CDC’s immunization program, which receives more than $324 million for states to improve their immunization infrastructure and increase vaccine coverage among children.

It’s questionable whether Trump’s proposed budget would have an immediate impact on the response effort to the spread of Zika this season. Many state and local public health departments already have received at least a portion of the $1.1 billion in emergency Zika funding approved by Congress last year.

But the question remains how the Trump budget cuts would affect the nation’s response efforts once that money is used up, when a new disease threat could emerge. There is worry that if health departments were faced with an outbreak of Zika plus a sudden epidemic of measles or influenza, it could push some agencies beyond their limits.

“So far we have been extraordinarily lucky in this country to have sequential public health emergencies instead of simultaneous emergencies,” Kyriacopoulos said.

Freedman said a larger concern lies in the potential impact Trump’s budget cuts could have on efforts to recruit the next generation of scientists and researchers. “The best and the brightest aren’t going to pursue a career in science if there are no opportunities for either jobs or funding,” he said.

Source: Modern Healthcare

April 10, 2017: Creating Zika-Proof Mosquitoes Means Rigging Natural Selection

This update from Megan Molteni of Science.

Of the many great things promised by Crispr gene editing technology, the ability to eliminate disease by modifying organisms might just top the list. But doing that requires perfecting something called a gene drive. Think of gene drives as a means of supercharging evolution to, say, give an entire population of mosquitoes a gene that kills the Zika virus. The trouble is, organisms develop resistance to gene drives, much like they eventually outwit pesticides and antibiotics.

Researchers dedicate no small amount of time and thought to creating gene drives that can outsmart evolution because the potential payoffs are so great. The lowly mosquito transmits dozens of diseases that kill more than a million people every year, making it the deadliest animal in the world. Pesticides, mosquito nets, and medicine won’t solve the problem, but gene drives might—provided scientists can make them less likely to succumb to the genetic mutations that might render them useless.

In a paper presented today in Science Advances, Harvard scientists used computational models to test a means of doing just that. The resulting gene can spread to 99 percent of a population in as few as 10 generations, and persist for more than 200 generations without the mosquitoes (or any other population) developing a resistance. Although the researchers did not test their method by tinkering with real mosquitoes, their modeling creates a blueprint for anyone eager to build a more successful gene drive.

Simply put, a gene drive makes a specific gene spread through a population more rapidly than would happen through nature alone, something geneticists refer to as “super-Mendelian inheritance.” Typically, this means inserting a bit of DNA into the genome of an organism—say, Aedes aegypti, the primary transmitter of the Zika virus. When the modified, or transgenic, mosquito mates with a wild mosquito, their offspring carry one one copy of the “drive gene” directly opposite its natural counterpart. The drive gene snips out the normal gene and inserts a copy of itself, doing this over and over and over again until every mosquito carries two copies of the drive gene—and therefore, resistance to Zika. That’s the idea, anyway. But because nature is imperfect, mistakes happen. More specifically, mutations happen. The very act of cutting out the normal gene makes the whole system more susceptible to mutations. And if enough of them add up over time and across a population, the drive gene can actually become recessive.

To fight back, science must develop a gene that works even if it isn’t perfectly copied, says computational biologist Charleston Noble, the paper’s lead author. “The trick is to decouple the cost of resistance and the cost of the drive.”

Noble’s team suggests doing this through a technique called recoding that genetic engineer and paper co-author George Church is developing. Because of redundancies in genetic code, there are times when you can do things like change a C to a T or a T to an A and still get the same proteins even though the DNA sequence is different. To offer an oversimplified explanation, it means you can create a drive that targets a gene essential to survival or reproduction. If the drive inserts smoothly, great. The gene drive drives on. If it doesn’t insert itself smoothly, no problem. The mosquito dies, or does not reproduce. And, because the new code for the essential gene doesn’t exactly match the target it replaced, it won’t get snipped itself.

“This kind of approach is definitely the direction the field is going to have to go,” says Philipp Messer, a molecular geneticist whose lab at Cornell is among the few testing gene drives in insects. “Whether or not it works experimentally is still an open question.” You can rattle off countless reasons why a method that works beautifully in computer modeling might utterly fail in the wild. Just one example—Noble’s simulations assumed an infinite number of mosquitoes all equally likely to breed with each other. Here in the real world, oceans and mountain ranges and other natural barriers might create populations the gene-driven mosquitos can’t or don’t reach.

Plus, not all bugs evolve resistance equally. Even within a single species, variations in individual genomes make it hard to predict how effectively a drive gene will insert itself into a population. “All these models assume there’s one fixed rate at which these things arise,” Messer says. “But that doesn’t seem to be the case.” Right now, Messer is looking at the rate at which resistant mutations occur in a Drosophila gene drive system. That work remains under peer review, but his lab is already finding mutation rates much higher than previously reported. That suggests the battle against gene drive resistance is far from over, even with an arsenal that includes tools like Crispr.

Source: Wired

April 3, 2017: The Mosquitos That Can Carry the Zika Virus Have Reportedly Appeared In 129 California Cities

With cold winter weather the only major obstacle to the Zika virus becoming America’s first pandemic since the 1957 Asian Flu, ground zero for a potential pandemic is now the West Coast.

The California Department of Public Health released an emergency warning on March 31 that two invasive (non-native) mosquito species named Aedes aegypti (the yellow fever mosquito) and Aedes albopictus (the Asian tiger mosquito), which are known to carry Zika, dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever, have now been found in 10 California counties including Fresno, Kern, Imperial, Los Angeles, Madera, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Mateo and Tulare.

Unlike most of California’s native mosquito species, Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus only bite during the daytime. They are distinguished by their small size, and by their black and white stripes on their back and legs.

Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus are now common in Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Asia. But the only documented U.S. cases of viral transmission from a mosquito to a human took place in South Florida and Brownsville, Texas last year.

The Center for Disease Control’s computer models correctly predicted that virus transmission would almost stop during winter due to the Zika vector mosquito populations drastically shrinking. They may, however, resurface in late next spring.

Those same simulation models expect California to be the ideal petri dish for a Zika virus pandemic, thanks to the combination of Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitos’ ability to lay their eggs in any small natural or artificial container holding water, plus historically heavy California rainfall and snowpack runoff expected to last until the end of summer.

The California Department of Public Health’s Division of Communicable Disease Control has “laboratory confirmed” a total of 529 cases of Zika infections in the state as of March 31. There were 2 new Zika infections reported in the last week, and officials expect the warming weather to accelerate the spread of the virus.

California has confirmed that 104 pregnant women contracted Zika, and 5 babies were born in the state with the virus. Birth defects directly related to Zika include microcephaly; brain damage from cranial calcium deposits; excess fluid in the brain cavities; brain damage affecting nerves and hearing; and inflexible muscles and bone deformations.

Although researchers have not confirmed any transmissions of Zika virus from mosquitos within the state, the virus is only symptomatic for only 18 percent of cases. Although Zika can cause severe sickness and death in adults, most infected individuals only suffer from mild flu-like fever, joint pain, muscle pain, headache and red eyes. Consequently, the Zika virus infection rate is drastically underreported.

But in an alarming development, there are six confirmed Zika infections in California women who acquired the virus through sexual transmission from an individual that traveled to nations where the World Health Organization already declared a Zika virus pandemic.

Hot zones for California Zika cases appear to be areas known for heavy tech immigration flows, with 155 in Silicon Valley and 150 in Silicon Beach.

The first human experimental Zika vaccine testing began in Houston earlier this week, and will soon begin in Miami and San Juan, Puerto Rico. Research scientists at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which developed the vaccine, hope by June to have enrolled 2,000 volunteer test subjects across the Americas. Initial results will not be available until late 2017, and a vaccine will not be widely available for at least another two years.

Source: Breitbart

March 24, 2017: Zika. There's an App for That

Scientists develop a cheap, smartphone-based test for Zika

Many a world traveler questioned their tropical vacation plans last year after the mosquito-borne Zika virus started making headlines. To test for the disease, which has been tied to a surge of microcephaly cases in infants, physicians look for flu-like symptoms and your recent travel history. They then confirm a diagnosis by testing a blood or urine sample. For modern Western travelers, that’s no big deal. But what about those who may not be able to afford a doctor’s lab tests or clinics unable to afford costly testing equipment in the first place?

Researchers at Sandia National Labs have come up with a diagnostic test for Zika that’s smaller and cheaper than current testing equipment. In fact, it’s based around a smartphone. Like existing tests, it hinges on a blood sample, but then the blood is put through a process called loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP). In this process, a sample mixed with “a few carefully designed biochemical agents” is heated to 150 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes. Any positive DNA fragments in the sample will glow, tagged by a light emitting fluorophore molecule. To check for those positive, glowing reactions, your smartphone (situated over the LAMP box) performs some image recognition using its camera and a dedicated app.

This technique is leagues cheaper than current testing solutions, whose equipment can cost upwards of $20,000. That equipment also tends to be quite large, which, while appropriate for laboratories, isn’t ideal for small clinics. A prototype of this LAMP box, by contrast, can be held in one hand. It’s also faster, with the process only taking half an hour.

“There are billions of smartphones in the world, even in developing countries, and this tool doesn’t require the highest-end smartphone on the market,” chemical engineer and paper lead author Aashish Priye said. “It only needs to have an optical sensor and be able to run the app.”

This solution is just one of a growing number of lab tests and medical diagnostic tools that are moving to the smartphone. For example, in 2014, researchers at the University of Cambridge developed an app that paired with testing strips to monitor a variety of medical conditions. And in 2015, Columbia University researchers developed a mobile-based lab-on-a-chip that could check for HIV and syphilis in only 15 minutes—and cost only $34. Armed with a suite of relatively cheap accessories, physicians working in remote locations could perform a variety of useful, accurate tests minus the lab (and with a fraction of the legwork).

In this case, the app and LAMP box could be used to check not only for Zika but also dengue and chikungunya. These diseases are all spread by the same type of mosquito and result in similar symptoms. Outfitted with these types of tools, clinicians will hopefully be able to identify and treat pandemic threats more quickly and more successfully in the near future.

Source: The Daily Dot

March 21, 2017: Zika: When Will It Ever End?

This from Daniel Chang of the Miami Herald.

Florida health officials on Monday reported one more locally acquired Zika infection in a person who felt no symptoms but who was tested for the virus in February.

The person likely acquired Zika in Miami-Dade in 2016 after “multiple exposures” to areas where mosquitoes were spreading the virus, the Florida Department of Health reported, adding that the state had just received confirmation from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In addition, Florida reported four new travel-related Zika infections, raising the total number of cases for 2017 to 29 people, including one locally acquired case from Miami-Dade. Among the 29 cases reported in Florida this year are 13 pregnant women and two people whose source of infection is undetermined after a health department investigation.

Pregnant women are considered to be at the greatest risk from Zika because the virus has been shown to cause microcephaly and other neurological disorders in children born to mothers infected while pregnant. The frequency of Zika infections in Florida has declined over the winter, but public health experts expect the virus to resurface as the temperature warms and rain increases.

Source: Miami Herald

March 17, 2017: CDC Says Sperm Donated in Florida May Contain Zika

Sperm donated in three Florida counties since June 15 may be infected with the Zika virus, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cautioned Monday.

“When semen is donated it can be stored frozen for periods of time. It does not necessarily inactivate Zika, so it could be stored in tissue banks, used subsequently and people should be made aware,” said Dr. Peter Marks, director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research at the US Food and Drug Administration. He went on to say having this information can help individuals make informed decisions and they “might want to use these donations from other sources.”

Sources other than the 12 sperm banks in Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Broward counties of Florida, that is.

The agency had previously designated only Miami-Dade County as an area to take precautions after the first local transmission of the virus in the continental United States was confirmed in the Wynwood neighborhood of Miami in July. The area was declared Zika free in December.

However, the CDC is now warning anyone in Palm Beach and Broward counties to also consider themselves at an increased risk for the virus. This applies to anyone who has traveled to or between these three counties since June 15, 2016, a change from previous guidance that designated June 29 as the start of the increased risk period.

It is possible that someone could have Zika without knowing, because an estimated 80% of those infected have no symptoms. When symptoms occur, they can include fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes, and they can last from a few days to about a week.

Pregnant women are at greatest risk because they can unknowingly pass the virus to their fetus, causing devastating consequences including miscarriage and neurological deficits that last a lifetime.

Because the virus can also be sexually transmitted, pregnant women or those trying to become pregnant have been advised to avoid unprotected sex with a partner who has been infected or who has lived in or traveled to an area where the virus is circulating.

The ongoing investigation into reported cases of the virus in Florida has found that residents of Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Broward counties travel frequently between the counties and either forget, or fail to, consider that they’ve visited an area of increased risk, thus not realizing they could be infected.

Women who live in these three counties who have become pregnant since June 15 are advised to speak with their physicians about the potential increased risk as are women who want to use a sperm donation from a donor in these counties, advised Dr. Denise Jamieson, incident commander for the CDC Zika emergency response and chief of the women’s health and fertility branch at the CDC’s division of reproductive health.

CDC officials said they are acting only out of an abundance of caution and there have not been any reports of the virus being transmitted through donated sperm.

“Now we understand more than we did months ago is that evidence of the Zika virus is present in semen for up to three months after a man is infected and people may not have accurately recalled potential exposure [to the virus] especially if in a local area,” said Dr. Matthew Kuehnert, who is part of the CDC Zika emergency response team and director of the CDC office of blood, organ and other tissue safety.

Unlike blood donations, which are routinely screened for the virus in the United States, there is no available test to screen semen for Zika. The existing test is still in the research phase and accuracy is being assessed, which is why men in these counties should not donate sperm. Their donated sperm may be infected.

The Florida Department of Health last reported a case of local transmission of the virus on March 2. However, that report included confirmation of two cases from October of last year. A third case was also reported then but this was an individual who donated blood in January and through routine blood screening was found to have previously been infected but no longer had an active case of the virus.

Source: CNN

The CDC media statement

March 13, 2107: 3 New Locally Acquired Cases of Zika Confirmed in Miami-Dade

Florida health officials confirmed three new locally acquired cases of the Zika virus in Miami-Dade County on Thursday but said they will not lead to any new Zika zones in the city or nearby South Beach.

“Two are cases that had samples collected in October as part of our ongoing investigation and the department just received confirmatory testing back from CDC.,” according to the Florida Department of Health, which added that both cases have been added to 2016 data.

“The third case reported no symptoms, but screening conducted after blood donation in January showed evidence of a past infection,” officials added on Thursday.

“This individual had multiple exposures in Miami-Dade County and likely contracted Zika in 2016,” health officials explained. “Because the individual was asymptomatic, it is difficult to determine when infection occurred. Since the first positive sample was collected in January, this is considered our first locally reported case of Zika in 2017.”

State health officials, however stressed that Florida still does not have any identified areas with ongoing, active Zika transmission.

With the two new cases, the total number of Zika cases reported in Florida for 2016 stands at 1,384. So far in 2017, the total of Zika cases reported in Florida is 18.

Gov. Rick Scott announced on Dec. 9 that the final remaining Zika zone in the state had been lifted — an area of about 1.5 square miles between Eighth and 28th streets in South Beach.

“We will continue to see travelers bringing Zika infections into our state and so we must remain on alert and continue all the protective efforts that we’ve doing that have led to this success,” cautioned Philip, who also serves as Florida’s surgeon general. “That means continuing to use repellent, keeping your skin covered as much as possible …. And we cannot forget about the risk associated with sexual transmission.”

On December 2, 2016, the governor announced that the Little River zone in Miami had been cleared. That area included a one-square-mile stretch between NW 79th Street to the north, NW 63rd Street to the south, NW 10th Avenue to the west and N. Miami Avenue to the east.

In November, Scott gave the all clear to the Miami Beach area north of 28th Street to 63rd Street. Before that, he announced that the Wynwood area of Miami had also seen no new transmissions of Zika. This included the area of Northwest 5th Avenue to the west, U.S. 1 to the East, 38th Street to the north, and 20th Street to the south.

Despite Zika concerns, Florida set a tourism record last year with 112.8 million visitors.

Source: Patch.com

March 9, 2017: Experts Discuss the Possibility of a More Severe Zika Outbreak This Summer

Emergency Preparedness Leaders, National and Local Vector Control Officials, Healthcare Providers, Public and Private Sector Partners and Zika Virus Experts will once again gather to learn findings and solutions about the Zika virus from each other. This is all geared towards the improvement of their preparedness and response efforts in the event of a Zika virus outbreak.

The 2nd International Zika Virus Conference and Workshop once again provides experts, leaders from all government levels (tribal, local, state, federal), and other health officials a venue where they could share the best practices and the latest researches about the Zika virus to delegates coming from different parts of the world. Priority will be placed on identifying the responsibilities of stakeholders in order to improve global communication coordination and collaboration. The ZIKV conference will be held at the Hilton Washington Dulles Airport Hotel on March 29-30 followed by an all-day hands-on workshop on the 31st.

The 2nd iZIKVc will focus on the latest preventions, preparedness, responses and recovery measures being developed to address the transmission of Zika virus. The speakers and exhibitors are selected to present the widest possible range of perspectives—not only human but also physical, environmental, and social-cultural.

Speakers of the event include:

• Zachary S. Thompson
• Dr. Oscar Alleyne
• Dr. Lorrin Pang
• Dr. William N. May
• Phillip Goodman
• Phil Maytubby
• Vincent Cantu

Each day, the conference will offer papers on a wide range of topics including:

• Preparing Community Strategies
• Local Partnership and Participation
• Emergency Response and Hospital/Healthcare Coordination
• Prevention Education Efforts and Risk Communication

Panel discussions include:

• Mosquito Vector Surveillance and Control
• Health Department Response
• Zika Prevention, Community Engagement and Cultural Equity
• Community Strategies/Partnership
• Establishment and Implementation of a Scalable Vector-Borne Disease Response Plan at the Local Level
• Mosquito Response/State Level
• Defending Susceptible Communities from Spread of Arboviruses
• Mitigating Public Health Vulnerabilities

Click here for a free copy of the event brochure.

March 7, 2017: Bacteria Genes Can Help Control Zika-Carrying Mosquitoes

Scientists have found a way to sterilize mosquitoes that spread Zika virus and dengue fever, and thus to be able to control the insect population, according to research at Yale and Vanderbilt universities

According to a Yale press release, fertilization by infected male insects containing the common bacterium Wolbachia will fail unless the female also is infected with Wolbachia.

“Females inseminated by these males only lay dead (sterile) eggs,” said John Beckmann, a postdoctoral researcher in Yale’s Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry, in a press release. Beckmann is lead author of a paper in Nature Microbiology and contributing author of a related paper in the journal Nature. “If the sterilized males are released into problem areas we can eliminate insect populations.”

Zika, which causes severe birth defects, and dengue fever, which causes flu-like symptoms and occasionally leads to death, are spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. However, that mosquito does not naturally carry Wolbachia, the release said.

By inserting the genes from Wolbachia into males of the Aedes aegypti species, the mosquito population could be controlled, said Mark Hochstrasser, professor of molecular biophysics and biochemistry and of molecular, cellular and developmental biology, in the release. Hochstrasser is senior author of the Nature Microbiology paper.

Beckmann told the New Haven Register that each female can lay 600 eggs in two batches during her life cycle. If she is impregnated by a sterile male, within three generations, there would be millions of sterile mosquitoes, he said.

Yale’s Judith Ronau, a postdoctoral associate in molecular biophysics and biochemistry, is co-lead author of the Nature Microbiology paper. Vanderbilt’s Seth Bordenstein is senior author of the Nature study.

Source: New Haven Register

March 3, 2017: Wayne State University Scientists Discover the Zika Virus Can Damage Eyes, May Cause Blindness

Scientists with Wayne State University say they are the first to publish research to show the Zika virus can damage retina cells in the eyes, and in some cases cause blindness.

“The key message of the study is that indeed the Zika virus can cause damage,” said Dr. Ashok Kumar, microbiologist and assistant ophthalmology professor with Wayne State University School of Medicine at the Kresge Eye Institute.

Dr. Kumar led a team which launched research in July to publish their study in JCI Insight, the Journal of Clinical Investigation Feb. 23.

Using mice Dr. Kumar says the Zika virus can infect and cause lesions in retina cells, causing damage and in some cases cause blindness. Their research showed the Zika virus mostly killed cells specifically lining the blood-retinal barrier, the retinal endothelium, and retinal pigment epithelium.

“Zika virus can actually infect those cells, and we did … studies and we found it can replicate in those cell types and ultimately it kills those cells,” said Dr. Kumar.

Their study builds on existing research published May 2016 in the Journal of the American Medical Association Ophthalmology that linked the Zika virus to eye problems. Researchers showed that some infants born with congenital Zika infection and microcephaly-or significantly smaller head and underdeveloped brain-in the northeast state of Brazil, Bahia, they also had problems in their retinas, other organs, and some hearing loss.

“Pretty much the whole eye can be infected with the Zika virus,” said Dr. Gary Abrams, ophthalmology professor with Wayne State University School of Medicine at the Kresge Eye Institute, who assisted Dr. Kumar with the clinical aspect of this study.

Dr. Abrams says about one third of infants born with Zika will develop eye issues they have discovered, whereas 15 percent of adults with Zika will have some sort of ocular impact, but most do not get a retinal infection.

“This is a virus that’s fairly pervasive: once the infection occurs it can be pretty much all over the body, including in the eyes, in the tears, and elsewhere,” said Dr. Abrams.

Currently, Dr. Kumar says they are continuing research in hopes of developing methods to track and treat Zika infections. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no known treatment at this time.

“There are so many questions we don’t know,” said Dr. Kumar. “First thing is: how does the virus replicate? How long is it going to replicate? And what will be the visual outcome.”

“The big question really is that Zika virus was discovered in 1947, so it’s about 70 years, and why suddenly is it becoming so prevalent?”

Source: FOX 17 West Michigan

March 1, 2017: Zika May Be Spread by Up To 35 Species Of Mosquitoes, Researchers Say

This just in from Daniel Chang from the Miami Herald.

The Aedes aegypti species of mosquito is believed to be the most capable transmitter of Zika. But University of Georgia ecologists have created a predictive model that suggests up to 35 species of mosquitoes can spread the virus, according to a study published Tuesday in the journal, eLife. Miami-Dade was the only county in Florida to have designated active Zika transmission zones during an outbreak in 2016, according to state health officials.

Zika may be spread by as many as 35 species of mosquitoes, including seven found in the United States, according to a forecasting model created by University of Georgia ecologists and published Tuesday in the journal eLife.

Most scientists, including those at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, believe Zika is primarily spread through the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti or Aedes albopictus species of mosquito, both of which are prevalent in Florida.

But University of Georgia ecologists suspect that there must be other types of mosquitoes capable of spreading Zika because an outbreak of the virus on Yap Island in 2007 was driven by a different species, Aedes hensilli — and because other viruses closely related to Zika are spread by more than nine mosquito species, on average.

The Georgia researchers created a model to test their theory, and using mathematical analysis, predicted that 35 species of mosquitoes may be able to spread Zika. Seven of those mosquito species are found in the United States.

University of Georgia researchers recommended their findings be used to prioritize mosquito species for further studies that would confirm their ability to spread Zika while the virus is still laying low.

Zika spread rapidly through Brazil and the Caribbean in 2015 and 2016, leading to a spike in babies with severe birth defects born to mothers infected with Zika while pregnant. Miami became the first city in the United States to have active spread of Zika by mosquitoes last summer, after months of people with travel-related infections were reported in the state.

But despite being named a public health emergency by the World Health Organization and by Florida health officials in February 2016, Zika remained little understood by scientists — including the science of how it spreads, University of Georgia researchers reported.

So far in 2017, Florida has reported four travel-related cases and no new local infections. In 2016, Florida’s health department reported a total of 1,325 Zika cases.

Source: Miami Herald

January 23, 2017: Sheridan County Reports First Positive Zika Virus Case

Sheridan county confirmed its first positive case of the Zika virus, contracted through a bq. mosquito bite in a Sheridan man while traveling in the Caribbean

A Sheridan County man tested positive for the Zika virus on Jan. 11 after traveling to the Caribbean earlier this month.

“(The patient) got it on a cruise in the Caribbean and got bitten by mosquitos,” said Dr. John Finley with the South Sheridan Medical Center Urgent Care Clinic. “When they got back they had headache, rash and fever.”

The patient went to one of Finley’s nurse practitioners on Jan. 8, then returned on Jan. 9 to meet with Finley, who took a blood sample for testing with the Wyoming Department of Health.

Surveillance Epidemiologist Katie Bryan with the Wyoming Department of Health confirmed the third case of Zika in a six-month period in Wyoming and the first in Sheridan County. Bryan said the case was an adult male who contracted the virus while traveling. The other two cases occurred in Laramie and Campbell counties in August 2016.

Testing for the Zika virus starts with one blood test. If that test comes back positive, no further testing takes place. With the Sheridan case, the blood test returned positive.

“This patient noticed because of the rash and that’s really why they came in,” Finley said.

Common symptoms of Zika the patient faced included a headache, rash and fever. For most, the virus causes minimal damage and requires little to no treatment.

“Being a virus, there really is no treatment for it. The disease is very minimal as far as when you have it,” Finley said. “Headache, you don’t feel good for a couple days and maybe a rash and then it all goes away. Many, many people who’ve had it didn’t even know it. You don’t feel good one day and the next day you’re fine, you don’t think about it.”

Treatment runs similar to regular treatment for headaches and fevers.

“Usually we just tell patients to make sure they stay hydrated, take some Tylenol for the fever and rest and it’s going to go away,” Finley said.

Zika remains a low-key virus for most but becomes a true scare if women become infected and are pregnant or plan to become pregnant.

“Babies can have several birth defects that are associated primarily with Zika,” Finley said. “These are awful things you don’t want to have.”

Microcephaly is a birth defect where a baby’s head is smaller than expected when compared to babies of the same sex and age, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Babies with microcephaly often have smaller brains that might not have developed properly. Other conditions include Guillain-Barré syndrome, which the immune system attacks the nerve.

“The current recommendations for women: If you’re pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant, stay out of the Zika places,” Finley said.

The Puerto Rico Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have developed a surveillance system called Zika Active Pregnancy Surveillance System used to evaluate the association between Zika virus infection during pregnancy and adverse outcomes during pregnancy, birth and early childhood up to 3 years old, CDC’s website reads.

The United States, specifically Brownsville, Texas and Florida, Mexico and a majority of South America reported active Zika virus transmissions.

Due to cold winter months in Sheridan, it remains highly unlikely others will contract the virus through mosquito-borne Zika virus transmissions.

While the risk associated with traveling to countries affected by Zika virus transmissions remain extremely high for pregnant or potentially pregnant women, men also need to take heed to potential transmissions through bodily fluids.

“The virus builds up in body fluids; tears, saliva, sweat, semen,” Finley said. “The semen is where it seems to like to live for a long time. Men, if they go (to infected areas), they should not, absolutely not, get a woman pregnant for six months.”

Prevention, in this case, includes abstaining from sexual relations or using birth control.

For those with planned visits to affected areas, awareness and prevention need to sit at the top of the packing list.

Finley suggests using insect repellent with DEET, wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants and remaining aware of surroundings day and night.

CDCs website also suggests checking latest travel recommendations for updates on affected areas.

Source: The Sheridan Press

January 21, 2017: First Zika Virus Infection Found in Fresno County

The Fresno County Department of Public Health has confirmed that a female resident has been infected with the Zika virus through sexual transmission in a travel associated case.

The Health Department said The Zika virus spreads to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito, but can also spread through unprotected sex with a person infected with Zika. Most people infected with Zika do not experience symptoms, but should take precautions to avoid sexual transmission, even if they never had symptoms, if they have been at risk for exposure.

Source: ABC 30 Action News

January 18, 2017: Despite Predicted Slow Down During Winter Season, Zika Continues Plaguing Florida

Despite a predicted slow down during the cooler winter season, the Zika virus continues plaguing Florida

The Zika virus is mainly transmitted by the aedes aegypti mosquito. But, Florida Department of Health Secretary Celeste Philip says there are not well-researched protocols for how to get rid of the mosquito.

“It’s different than the nuisance mosquitoes that most of us are familiar with in that instead of dusk and dawn—remember that messaging—they’re day biters,” she said, speaking last week to the Senate Budget committee. “Instead of being out and about in nature, they like to be in urban areas, close to people, inside homes, often times. And, so the way that you address, mitigate, and control the aedes aegypti mosquitoes is very different.”

Philip says one of the focuses in this year’s health budget is more funding for epidemiologists, who deal with controlling different types of diseases.

“As we’ve learned from our Zika response as well as in the past few years, there seems to be a new disease DuJour that the department is responsible for,” she added. “We’ve had Ebola, we’ve had MERS—which is a Middle East respiratory syndrome and have repeatedly had to depend on epidemiologists. And, what we find is we are able to respond very well to whatever that condition is, but some of the daily activities of epidemiologists, then there is a delay in some of that. And, so, we have now gotten to a point where we believe that this is an important investment for the state for us to have a strong epidemiologist workforce.”

So far, the state has confirmed about 1,300 Zika cases. That includes cases considered travel-related, locally acquired via Florida mosquitoes, and involving pregnant women.

And, Philip says health officials are already making plans to monitor those mothers and their kids, since Zika is associated with a severe birth defect.

“So, as we move forward, and we continue to work with healthcare professionals to learn more about Zika to make sure testing is available and that they have the resources that they need, to make sure we’re following up with those infants over the next few years, if not longer—that will be an important partnership as well as following up with the CDC,” she continued.

Meanwhile, the health department isn’t working alone.

Since the first report of local Zika transmissions, state Department of Economic Opportunity Director Cissy Proctor says her jobs agency focused on assisting and educating the business community.

For example, she says DEO officials along with members of the Small Business Development Center, or the SBDC went to the Zika hotspots of Wynwood and Miami Beach.

“So, this was a team on the ground that went around to businesses and knocked on their door and asked, ‘how can we help you? What can we do?’ The things that they needed were technical assistance. ‘What can we do if people are not coming to our restaurants, to our businesses?’ And, working with the SBDC, came up with some creative ideas,” said Proctor. ”For instance, if a company or restaurant didn’t normally cater or didn’t normally deliver, then maybe that is something that they would try to see if they could keep income and money coming in the doors, so they can continue to employ the folks in their restaurants and their business.”

As for the state’s tourism industry, Zika still hasn’t had a big impact. Proctor says that’s according to her partner agency, Visit Florida.

“So, Visit Florida began a tracking survey to determine the impacts of Zika on people’s perceptions,” she added. “So, to date, we have 20 weeks of survey information that has been collected. What we know is that from what we’ve heard from tourism leaders, and anecdotally as well as I’m sure you all have seen on the news that there were cancellations. But, the survey results showed that even with increased news that there were not a significant number of cancellations. So, what we’ve heard is ‘yes, we’ve seen the news. Yes, we are concerned. But, no we are not cancelling our vacation.”

In fact, Proctor points out Florida hit record setting tourism numbers in the third quarter of 2016, despite concerns over Zika.

Source: WFSU

January 14, 2017: Two New Disease-Carrying Mosquitoes Found In Florida

Two new tropical disease-transmitting mosquitoes have been found in the state of Florida for the first time, according to researchers from University of Florida.

Entomologist Nathan Burkett-Cadena did not expect to find the Aedeomyia squamipennis and Culex panocossa species in Homestead as well as in Florida City on a research trip back in October. It is a sign that Florida is now becoming more conducive to tropical mosquitoes, especially as they are found near the mainland.

Both species are believed to transmit viruses to humans and lay their eggs on weeds that float in canals and drainage waters, warned Burkett-Cadena in a Miami Herald report.

Mosquito-Weary South Florida

While native to Central and South America, the mosquitoes likely arrived via plants and spread across South Florida canals and ponds. They are expected to grow in numbers soon.

“This would speak to some broader environmental changes that have caused Florida to be more accessible and hospitable to tropical mosquitoes,” the scientist said, pointing to global warming as the likely culprit and saying nobody had the species’ arrival “on their radar.”

Apart from climate change, increased tourism and global trade have probably made Florida a good destination for the exotic species, Burkett-Cadena added.

It’s a particularly bad time for the discovery in South Florida, as a Zika virus outbreak hit Wynwood and Miami Beach over the summer and extending into fall. The outbreak, with over 1,200 local and travel cases documented statewide, is caused by the Aedes aegypti mosquito.

While dry, cool weather paired with aggressive control measures has helped contain the mosquito spread, the disease is expected to return by springtime.

Severe birth defects in different places have mounted a full-blown Zika crisis. The virus takes the form of microcephaly in babies and kids, a defect characterized by smaller-than-normal heads.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued numerous health and travel recommendations for people who are most prone to the virus and its dangers, particularly pregnant women. As of Nov. 18, the World Health Organization has lifted the Zika virus’ global health emergency status.

While no vaccine exists for the virus yet, researchers have identified seven key proteins within it that may have been instrumental in the extent of the outbreak’s damage.

The two new species also carry viruses and can easily conquer densely populated areas.

There are a number of differences between them, though: the Aedeomyia mosquito feeds mainly on birds, which transmit the West Nile, Eastern equine encephalitis, and other viruses, while the Culex panocossa is a confirmed vector for the Venezuelan equine encephalitis, which poses a deadly threat to kids and the elderly.

The latter also likely carries the local Everglades virus, which is typically detected in native Culex species. The virus is so far contained since the mosquitoes do not survive well outside the Everglades, but researchers are worried about the mosquito’s tropical kin starting to spread it.

The virus in its mild form can lead to flu-like symptoms and joint aches but can progress to encephalitis and occasionally trigger comas that have not so far led to mortalities.

With the recent discovery, the number of invasive mosquitoes found in Florida over the past decade has reached nine.

Source: Tech Times

January 13, 2017: Miami Doctors Publish Study of First Locally-Acquired Zika Transmission

Following the recent Zika outbreak in Miami-Dade County, a multidisciplinary team of physicians has published a case study describing in detail the nation’s first locally-transmitted case of Zika

The findings of the case study, titled “Cutaneous Eruption in a U.S. Woman with Locally Acquired Zika Virus Infection,” largely center on the skin rash associated with the then-23-year-old pregnant patient’s diagnosis and provide a glimpse of the skin manifestations of the Zika virus. The report may have implications for future Zika screening, diagnoses and linkage to care throughout the United States and abroad.

“Dermatologists and clinicians had an idea of what the Zika rash looked like, but it wasn’t until the patient presented here that we were able to get an up-close and personal look and photograph the skin,” said Lucy Chen, M.D., a Jackson Health System dermatology resident and lead author of the case study. “Any doctor now has a visual sense of the rash to properly diagnose and refer patients to the appropriate specialists.”

The young woman whose case is detailed in the report was 23-weeks pregnant in July 2016 and had experienced three days of low-grade fever, a widespread rash and sore throat. The rash consisted of small pink bumps on the patient’s chest, back of her arms, legs, palms and soles, said Chen, who saw the patient upon admission. Her symptoms later advanced to muscle and joint pain. The patient tested positive for Zika although neither she nor her partner had traveled outside of the U.S. The case was confirmed by the Miami-Dade County Department of Health as the first non-travel-associated case of Zika in the U.S.

The virus was present in her system for two weeks in urine samples and six weeks in blood samples. Tests, thus far, on the patient’s infant show normal development, head size and intracranial anatomy, with no calcifications. The infant, who was born in October 2016, did not test positive for Zika.

Zika virus, a mosquito-borne virus, is transmitted by the Aedes Aegypti mosquito. As Miami-Dade County has the highest number of locally-transmitted and travel-related Zika cases in the U.S., University of Miami physicians at Jackson Memorial Hospital are uniquely positioned to document cases of Zika in adults and children and contribute to the growing knowledge of the virus, which has heavily impacted countries throughout Latin American, the Caribbean and parts of the U.S.

Christine Curry, M.D., Ph.D., who leads the care of Zika-infected pregnant women at the University of Miami and Jackson Health Systems, said the patient is “an example of how the virus can circulate in the body of a pregnant woman for more than the typical one to two weeks.” While there isn’t enough definitive evidence, Curry, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the UM Miller School of Medicine, said some tests suggest that the virus may have a tendency to linger longer in pregnant women.

In addition to Chen and Curry, the case study was co-authored by George W. Elgart, M.D., professor and Vice Chair of Education for the Department of Dermatology and Jackson Health System dermatology resident Farheen Hafeez, M.D.

Chen said people who experience a rash often do not seek care from a provider until it has cleared up. However, as Miami-Dade County is ground zero for the U.S. Zika outbreak, physicians and health workers have been on heightened alert for patients presenting with symptoms associated with Zika.

UM and Jackson have taken a multidisciplinary approach to combating Zika transmissions, caring for patients and studying cases.

Chen and a team in the UM Department of Dermatology took a biopsy of the skin and noted seeing neutrophil cells, which Chen said are not commonly present with viral rashes but help fight infections.

“This is an interesting finding but we would need to study additional cases to determine whether these cells help distinguish Zika rashes from other viral rashes,” said Chen.

Source: Science Daily

January 12, 2017: Child Born in Austin Has Zika Virus

Health officials say a child born in Travis County with microcephaly has the Zika virus

Austin health officials say a child born in Travis County with microcephaly has the Zika virus.

Austin Public Health Chief of Staff Bob Corona said the child was born last September in an Austin hospital, and tests confirmed the Zika virus this week.

Corona said the mother was infected in Central America, but it’s unclear if the mother was an Austin-area resident visiting Central America or a Central American visiting Austin.

State health officials say 294 people reported Zika-related illnesses as of Dec. 30, but only two of which were acquired in Texas. Twenty cases involved pregnant women, with two infants infected before birth. The first child born in Texas with Zika-related microcephaly, an abnormally small head, was last year in Harris County. The Zika virus was confirmed July 13.

Source: Time Warner Cable News Austin

January 11, 2017: Zika Update: Where Does the United States Stand?

To cap off a year that saw the Zika virus spread throughout the United States, The Centers For Disease Control made a grand, much-needed gesture. The CDC, using money granted by Congress earlier this year, has pledged close to $200 million to help fight the virus throughout the U.S. and its territories.

The money—which actually totals to $184 million—comes at a time where as many as 75 nations and territories have shown evidence of Zika infections. Approximately one year ago, that number was as small as 23.

As both the number of worldwide infections—and the measures intended to prevent them—continues to spread, the question remains: where do we stand with Zika?

Globally, only one new nation has reported a Zika infection since September, but that doesn’t mean the burden of the disease has lessened in countries that were already struggling. Even though the World Health Organization officially ended the status of the virus— which can cause severe birth defects in the brains of children born to infected mothers—as a global health emergency back in November, many countries are in it for the long haul when it comes to dealing with Zika.

In Brazil, for example, there have been 1,749 cases of babies born with defects in their nervous system, a problem that is estimated to cost the country around >$4 million per child

In the United States, these efforts may be working, as there has only been one new Zika case reported in the past three weeks. Despite this, research is continuing to reveal new ways that the virus can endanger pregnancies, making the task of stopping its spread just as important now as it was five months ago.

The virus first appeared in the U.S. in July, when Zika began to spread through infected mosquitos in Miami. Since then, infections have been reported in all 48 continental U.S. states.

However, almost all of these cases—there are 4,618 in total—have occurred through travel, with only approximately 200 infections in Florida and only a handful of infections in Texas spreading locally. Still, Congress is responding aggressively, as the CDC’s funding was only a small part of a $1.1 billion spending bill signed into law by president Obama back in September. The money is meant to serve a number of purposes, including vaccine research, mosquito control and studies on the virus’ effects on babies.

Source: Paste Magazine

January 10, 2017: Zika Cases Slow, but DSHS Still Urges Caution

There’s good news and bad news on the Zika virus front in Texas.

“The good news is, it’s been cold enough in most of the state that mosquito activity has dropped,” said DSHS Director of Media Relations Chris Van Deusen.

The bad news? “That’s not consistently the case in the Valley so there continues to be a risk of Zika spreading there,” he said.

So far, Texas has reported nearly 300 cases of Zika, with the vast majority related to travel to areas with ongoing Zika transmission. DSHS continues to receive weekly reports of new travel cases and has identified six cases transmitted by mosquitoes in Texas, all in Brownsville. Central and South America, as well as the Caribbean, continue to be Zika hotspots.

“That continues to be a concern for us, especially as people from the US travel there when it’s cold here,” Van Deusen said.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all pregnant women who live in or regularly travel to Brownsville be tested for Zika, once in their first trimester and again in the second. They can do this at their regular pre-natal checkups or through their county health clinics.

Despite the advent of colder weather, DSHS still recommends Texans take precautions against mosquito bites by using an effective mosquito repellant and wearing long pants and long-sleeve shirts. And in addition to dumping any standing water in flower pots and the like, Van Deusen said it’s also a good idea to scrub containers where water collects to eliminate mosquito eggs that can lie dormant through the winter.

While the Zika virus is transmitted primarily through mosquito bites, it may also spread by sexual contact. The four most common symptoms are fever, itchy rash, joint pain and eye redness. While symptoms are usually minor, Zika can also cause severe birth defects, including microcephaly, in some women who become infected during pregnancy.

DSHS recommends pregnant women follow CDC advice to avoid traveling to locations with sustained, local Zika transmission, including all areas of Mexico. Pregnant women should also use condoms or avoid sexual contact with partners who have traveled to those areas.

To learn more and get updates about the Zika virus, visit texaszika.org or follow @TexasDSHS on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Source: The Connection

January 9, 2017: British Actor Tony Gardner Reveals He Caught Zika While Filming Death in Paradise

Tony Gardner felt “pretty rough” after he was bitten by a mosquito carrying the disease in Guadeloupe

British actor Tony Gardner has revealed that he caught the Zika virus while filming the BBC crime series Death in Paradise in the Caribbean.

Known for his roles in Last Tango in Halifax, Fresh Meat and The Thick of It, the 52-year-old was taken ill after being bitten by a mosquito carrying the disease in Guadeloupe.

Speaking on comedian Sean Hughes’ podcast Under the Radar, Gardner said he felt “pretty rough” for a week after being bitten. He added that he and other crew members could make up “quite a lot” of the more than 250 Brits who are known to have caught the virus.

“There are now about 200 Brits who have had Zika,” Gardner said, “But quite a lot of them, possibly, come from the group of people that go out to Guadeloupe for six months a year to film."

“In retrospect I should have been more aggressive with the repellant,” he said.

He added: “About a couple of hours before I flew out I got a rash. And then for a week I wasn’t particularly well with joint pain and swelling… I just felt pretty rough actually for about a week.”

Gardner, who is a father and a qualified doctor, said that the virus was “not a problem for me because I’ve finished my family. It’s quite dangerous for people getting pregnant or men starting families.”

The production company behind Death in Paradise, Red Planet Pictures, said in a statement: “Information was provided on avoiding all mosquito-borne viruses and insect repellent was available on set at all times. Despite these precautions, a small number of the team were unwell after having been bitten.”

An outbreak of Zika in Brazil in 2015 was linked to instances of the birth defect microcephaly and women have been warned not to try and conceive for at least eight weeks after visiting areas affected by the virus.

Source: Radiotimes

January 6, 2017: Zika Case Confirmed in Willacy County

Health officials confirmed a case of Zika virus in Willacy County, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services website.

The case is reported to be travel related. Zika virus cases have now been confirmed in all four counties of the Rio Grande Valley.

Zika is primarily spread through mosquitoes. Symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes; however, most people infected don’t show symptoms or have mild symptoms. The virus has been linked to microcephaly, a birth defect where a baby’s head doesn’t fully develop.

Early cases of the virus in the Rio Grande Valley were confirmed in September and classified as travel related. In late November, health officials said a Zika case in Cameron County was transmitted locally by a mosquito. This led to voluntary urine tests of people living in the same area as the 43-year-old woman in the case. More cases of Zika were confirmed through these tests.

As of Tuesday, the state health department listed 16 cases of Zika in Cameron County, five cases in Hidalgo County, one in Starr County and one in Willacy County. Cameron County Health Authority Dr. James Castillo said there may be plenty of others infected, but only 20 percent of people with the virus are symptomatic.

So far, the only Zika cases in the state that were locally transmitted were found in Cameron County.

As of last week, Cameron County health officials haven’t found solid proof that infected mosquitoes are in the area. None of the thousands of mosquitoes trapped throughout Brownsville have tested positive for the virus; however, testing continues.

Dr. Castillo said they are relying on health experts’ educated guess and what is known about Zika to make determinations on each case. He pointed out it’s impossible to catch every single mosquito.

Source: KRGV.com

January 5, 2017: 1 New Case of Local Zika Transmission In Miami Area

Florida health officials say they have one new case of a locally-transmitted Zika infection in Miami-Dade County.

Health officials said in a statement Wednesday that, despite the new case, the state doesn’t have any areas of active Zika transmission.

The statement says the Florida Department of Health is investigating to find out where the person was exposed to the virus.

Starting in late July, state health officials had identified four zones in the Miami area where the virus was spreading through local mosquitoes – the first such transmissions in the continental U.S.

But earlier this month state health officials declared all the areas were clear of continuing infection.

Researchers say some birth defects caused by Zika infections may not be apparent at birth but develop months later.

Source: NBC 2 Miami

January 4, 2017: El Nino On a Warming Planet May Have Sparked the Zika Epidemic, Scientists Report

In a world characterized by rising temperatures, deforestation and other human influences on the environment, the spread of infectious disease is a hot topic. Many recent studies suggest that environmental changes can affect the transmission of everything from malaria to the Zika virus — and it’s increasingly important to understand these links, scientists say.

This week, a new study has provided new evidence that environmental changes can increase the threat of disease. It concludes that unusually warm temperatures caused by 2015’s severe El Nino event — likely compounded by ongoing climate change — may have aided in the rapid spread of Zika virus in South America that year. And while there are many complex factors at play in the spread of mosquito-borne diseases, the study may help scientists better prepare for the kinds of future effects we might see in our warming world.

“The start of the mission was simple — trying to address where the risk will be, where is it going to move next, where could Zika happen on the planet on a global scale,” said Cyril Caminade, a research fellow at the University of Liverpool and the new study’s lead author. To that end, the authors designed a study that would help them determine how climatic changes have impacted the mosquito-borne transmission of Zika.

There are two main species of mosquito known to carry the Zika virus — Aedes aegypti, or the yellow fever mosquito, which is widespread in the tropics; and Aedes albopictus, or the Asian tiger mosquito, which lives in both tropical and temperate regions of the world. Scientists also believe Zika can be sexually transmitted, but the new study focused only on mosquito transmission.

For the study, the researchers collected published information on the distribution of these two mosquito species and how temperature variations can affect them. Studies suggest, for instance, that up to a certain point, rising temperatures can cause mosquitoes to bite more frequently. The researchers also collected global historical climate data from the past few decades and used all the information to build a model of Zika transmission worldwide.

The model produced an unusually high disease transmission potential in the tropics for the year 2015, including in Colombia and Brazil, the countries hit hardest by Zika. Similar results occurred between 1997 and 1998, one of the only other times on record to experience such a brutal El Nino event.

“[O]ur model indicates that the 2015 El Nino event, superimposed on the long-term global warming trend, has had an important amplification effect,” the researchers note in the paper.

A new report, published Thursday as a special edition of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, provides some of the best evidence yet that climate change already has a hand in our worst weather.

The model also helped the researchers identify the ideal seasonal climate conditions for Zika transmission around the world. In South America, for instance, the model suggests that the potential for transmission should peak in the winter and spring.

In the southeastern U.S., on the other hand, summer is ideal. In fact, the model suggests this region has a high potential for disease transmission during this time, due partly to the high temperatures and partly to the fact that both mosquito species are found there.

That said, reports of Zika have been limited in the U.S. so far — and this speaks to the complexity of vector-borne disease transmission, Caminade said. Climate can certainly play a significant role in setting up the right conditions for an outbreak, but epidemics also depend on many other factors, including population density, access to healthcare and the use of pesticides and other anti-mosquito interventions in any given location. Some of these factors — which were not accounted for in the new study — can probably explain why there hasn’t been much Zika transmission in the U.S. so far.

Caminade also pointed out that after a population has been exposed to a mosquito-borne disease like Zika, a phenomenon called “herd immunity” often occurs — this happens when so many people have already been exposed, and developed an immunity, that there aren’t enough new people left to infect to continue the epidemic. This is the probably part of the reason we didn’t see Zika epidemics in other tropical parts of the world in 2015, despite the new study’s results. And some experts have suggested that herd immunity will likely cause the current situation in South America to burn itself out within a few more years.

But Caminade cautions that there’s still the potential for Zika outbreaks in other parts of the world where the conditions are right, including the United States and even southern Europe. The result would likely be milder than what’s been experienced in South America in the past year, but there’s “still risk,” he said.

According to Caminade, one of the study’s major takeaway points is that extreme climate conditions can lead to all kinds of unusual events — droughts, floods and wildfires are only a few examples — and disease outbreak is just one more potential disaster scientists should be looking out for when these conditions occur.

And such events may only be exacerbated by future climate change. Some studies have suggested that the kinds of “monster” El Nino events seen in 1997 and 2015 may be more likely in a warmer world, Caminade pointed out. But he added that scientists wishing to make more precise predictions about the future spread of disease must take a wide variety of factors into account — climate is just one of them.

“I won’t overplay the role of climate for the future,” he said. “It’s still a disease, and there are still parameters which are going to be very important.”

Source: The Times-Picayune

January 3, 2017: Cameron County Teen Infected in Sixth Zika Virus Case

A sixth case of the Zika virus was confirmed in the Rio Grande Valley on Thursday.

Cameron County health authorities released the information Thursday stating a 14-year-old teenager was infected.

In total, 17 cases have been reported in Cameron County. Eleven of those are travel-related, while the remaining six were locally-acquired.

Cameron County Health Authority Dr. James Castillo said the teenager lives near East Price Road and South Padre Highway. The area is about a mile and a half away from the five locally-acquired Zika cases confirmed in the past weeks.

Dr. Castillo said the teen’s case is not connected to the other group. He said the Cameron County Department of Health and Human Services is testing those closest to the teen to make sure they aren’t infected.

“Our investigation so far – for the 14-year-old – is that no other people in his household have had symptoms. But we’re testing them,” he said.

Dr. Castillo said that unlike the first confirmed locally-acquired Zika cases, they won’t conduct door-to-door testing.

“We’re not going to be testing asymptomatic people outside of the household. So we’re not doing what we had done on the initial responses. Again, all of those tests were negative. We did find additional four cases, but only after they became symptomatic,” he said.

The physician said the city of Brownsville sprayed for mosquitoes on Wednesday and Thursday. He said he expects to see few cases per month. “I think local cases. I think we’re going to continue to have quite a bit of travel,” he said.

Dr. Castillo said people should see their doctor if they develop symptoms including fever, rash and joint pain. He advised Brownsville residents to wear long sleeves and spray themselves with repellent.

“Any place that the conditions are right and the weather is right for these mosquitoes, and you have travelers, you have the recipe for Zika transmission,” he said.

The health officials said this case doesn’t mean Zika is wide spread in Cameron County.

Source: KRGV 5 News

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