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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.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: KTAR News

August 11, 2017: Florida Reports Dozen More Zika Cases

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

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

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

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

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

Source: WUSF News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: FOX News

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

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

And, yes, Fresno County officials are encouraging this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Vastag reported at the time:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: The Washington Post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The possums are not only used for Zika research.

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

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

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

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

Source: RGVproud

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

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

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

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

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

Some reported losing as much as 40 percent of revenue.

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

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

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

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

Statewide, health officials have confirmed 72.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• Wear insect repellants containing DEET when outdoors.

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

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

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

Source: ABC 7 Eyewitness News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: The Garden City Telegram

June 23, 2017: Zika May Have a Startlingly High Sexual Transmission Rate

When Zika swept across Latin America in 2015, a couple of alarming developments quickly followed: microcephaly in fetuses and a murky association with Guillain-Barré Syndrome. Despite ongoing research, much about the virus remains a mystery, including many details of how it spreads.

Mosquitoes are the most obvious vector, but as far back as 2011, virologists suspected that Zika might also be transmitted sexually, a hunch that was confirmed last year. Still, researchers had no idea how easily the virus could be passed through sexual contact.

Now, a pilot study offers new insights about this hard-to-research transmission route, which could potentially spread the virus to new areas. In the study, 12 out of 16 monkeys exposed to Zika through sexual routes tested positive for the virus.

It’s been nearly impossible to identify sexually transmitted cases in outbreak regions because they’re masked by mosquito-transmitted cases, which has made the potentially important vector practically invisible. On top of that, 80% of Zika infections are asymptomatic, meaning that people may not even know they have the disease and thus might be excluded from data about infection rates.

“The study provides a starting point to where we can start gauging risk,” said lead author Andrew Haddow of the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. To see how transmission rates had been studied in the past, Haddow said his team looked to HIV/AIDS research. As with that research, this initial model will need to be refined to truly understand human risk, he said.

“This is really big news,” said Enbal Shacham, an associate professor of behavioral science and health education at Saint Louis University, who was not involved in the study. Shacham said that because so little is known about how—and how efficiently—Zika is transmitted sexually, any new information is valuable.

The study involved 16 monkeys: eight rhesus and eight cynomolgus macaques. For each group, the researchers exposed four monkeys to Zika by delivering the virus to the vagina and the other four by delivering it to the rectum.

Researchers anesthetized the animals and, using a lubricated feeding tube, administered a single dose of the virus that was comparable to the highest amount reported in human semen. The method was specifically intended to be nontraumatic, avoiding microtears in the tissue. “We wanted to see what happened in an ideal situation,” Haddow said.

Four of the eight monkeys inoculated vaginally became infected (two of each species), while all eight of the individuals inoculated rectally were infected.

“We were pretty surprised by that,” Haddow said, adding that he and his team expected maybe one in four monkeys to become infected.

The new research provides “important proof” that primates can be infected through vaginal and rectal mucous membranes, said Akiko Iwasaki, a professor of immunobiology and molecular, cellular and developmental biology at Yale School of Medicine.

Despite the infections, none of the animals showed symptoms of the disease. Based on the amount and duration of infectious virus in the macaques’ blood, Haddow’s team thinks humans infected through sexual transmission may be capable of infecting mosquitos with the virus.

Haddow and his coauthors conclude that sexual transmission could be a way for the virus to maintain itself in the absence of mosquito transmission, and it might increase the likelihood of Zika spreading into new areas. “The possibility exists that you could have silent transmission, where somebody gets Zika sexually and has no idea,” Haddow said.

Researchers know that animal models have their limitations, though. John Brooks, a medical epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC), said we should be “very circumspect” when translating data from research animals to what it means for humans. Nonetheless, he pointed out that both groups of monkeys in Haddow’s research showed detectable virus in their blood for about the same amount of time it stays in humans.“To me that’s saying, okay, it’s behaving in this animal model like it’s behaving in humans,” Brooks said.

Still, he’s not worried about Zika spreading through sexual transmission alone. “Despite everyone’s concern that Zika could be spreading quietly through the country through sexual transmission, we’re just not seeing it,” Brooks said. “And people would have begun to recognize that by now.”

In the United States, the CDC knows of about 50 couples among whom sexual transmission of Zika has occurred. Researchers think those cases are the tip of an iceberg, Brooks said, adding, “I don’t know how big that iceberg is.”

Based on rough estimates of the number of travelers arriving in the United States from active Zika regions, the CDC estimates that 200,000 affected men could enter the country per year. Brooks says that’s a lot of opportunity for the virus to transition and to be sustained, but that hasn’t been observed. (While Zika can be transmitted from women to men, that’s far less common than men transmitting it to their partners, and there is only one known case of woman-to-man transmission.)

One reason that Zika outbreaks in the U.S. haven’t been traced to sexual transmission could be that, unlike some sexually transmitted diseases which remain infectious until treated (and even after), Zika clears from the system fairly quickly, Brooks said.

“In Zika, your body mounts a really effective immune response,” he said. Within about a month after infection, 50% of men will no longer have Zika in their semen, he said. After 81 days, that number rises to 95%.

While the dose of virus used in Haddow’s study is comparable to what can be found in human semen, Brooks said, “men don’t stay at that level for very long.” The level of Zika in semen declines “rapidly and steadily,” he added, although researchers don’t know at what point someone is no longer infectious. But, he points out, the known cases of sexual transmission in the United States have shown that people who infect their partners generally do so early in their illness—something researchers can determine by the timing of the second person’s illness.

For men who have traveled to an area with active Zika transmission, the CDC recommends abstaining from sex or using a barrier protection method (like a condom) for six months after leaving the area. For women who have traveled, the recommendation is eight weeks.

Haddow’s latest research builds on the legacy of his grandfather—who was one of the discoverers of Zika—as well as his own groundbreaking work. It was Haddow who pieced together clues that Zika might be sexually transmitted.

Despite the new research, the unknowns surrounding Zika extend far beyond its sexual transmission rate. Iwasaki, who has studied Zika in mice, said it can cause shrinking of testes and reduced sperm count in those animals. “Zika virus may be a silent disease with significant reproductive impact in humans for years to come,” she said.

Brooks said it took about 20 years to get the necessary data about HIV to run current models to assess both per-act risk of HIV transmission through various routes and the impact of prevention strategies on specific kinds of transmission.

Additionally, Haddow says there’s a possibility of a so-called sylvatic cycle of Zika, in which monkeys transmit the virus to each other sexually. In this scenario, animal populations could serve as a reservoir of the virus, keeping it alive without human hosts.

“It’s going to take years to investigate this stuff,” Haddow said.

Source: PBS

June 5, 2017: Australian Plant Extract Can Kill Zika Virus: Study

In a breakthrough, scientists have discovered a group of naturally occurring compounds in an Australian native plant that can effectively kill the Zika virus.

Tests confirmed the compounds halted the virus and stopped it from replicating without damage to host mammalian cells, researchers said.

“Our plaque assays found that the extract from this fairly common native plant killed 100 per cent of the Zika infection in cells,” said lead researcher Trudi Collet from Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Australia.

“It is also exciting because of the implications of this work for other viruses. Zika, Dengue, West Nile, Japanese Encephalitis and Yellow Fever are all from the same family of viruses – flaviviridae,” Collet said.

“From here, we will work to identify the compounds over the next three to six months, synthesise them and then test them against these other viruses too,” said Collet.

According to USA Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there was a 20-fold increase in the number of birth defects in women infected with Zika last year, researchers said.

“Zika is becoming more prevalent in developed countries and, once contracted, the virus has been shown to remain in human sperm for six months,” said Mark Baldock, chairman, Health Focus Products Australia (HFPA), which collaborated with QUT for the study.

“This breakthrough brings new hope that we could one day eliminate the virus from people who contract it in the very early stages and remove that prolonged danger and uncertainty,” said Baldock.

“The research is in the early stages, but we are aiming to ultimately synthesise the compounds in question and turn our attention to preclinical testing,” Collet said.

Zika is a virus that is closely related to dengue and is spread by mosquitoes and by human sexual activity.

While most people experience a very mild infection without any complications, recent outbreaks of the Zika virus in the Pacific and the Americas show that it can be passed from a woman to her unborn baby and potentially cause serious birth defects.

Source: Business Standard

May 31, 2017: A Look Back. Miami's Zika Outbreak Began Months Before It Was First Detected.

Last year’s Zika outbreak in Miami likely started in the spring of 2016, with the virus introduced multiple times before it was detected, researchers say. And most of those cases originated in the Caribbean.

The study, published Wednesday in Nature, examined more than 250 cases of local Zika transmission in three Miami neighborhoods. Researchers analyzed 39 Zika virus genomes isolated from 32 people who had been infected and seven Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, the species that carries Zika.

Comparison of differences in those genomes finds the virus was introduced by travelers at least four and perhaps as many as 40 different times as early as March 2016. Local transmission of Zika wasn’t confirmed in Miami until late July.

The study concludes that Miami’s Zika outbreak was caused mostly by infected travelers arriving from the Caribbean, the region with the highest incidence of the disease.

“Miami and South Florida particularly had this correspondence of lots of travelers from the Caribbean as well as high densities of Aedes aegypti that could support local transmission,” says Derek Cummings, a professor of biology at the University of Florida and one of the study authors. “Both the genetics and the travel data supported that the majority of locally acquired Zika cases were coming from Caribbean origin.”

Some 3 million travelers from the Caribbean arrived in Miami between January and June last year. The majority, 2.4 million, arrived aboard cruise ships. The researchers caution that doesn’t mean cruise ships are risk factors for Zika transmission, only that they are a major mode of transportation from areas where the disease was active.

According to the study, Miami is one of the few places in the continental U.S. with enough foreign travelers and a high enough density of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes to be at risk for Zika. The study authors say they think Florida is unlikely to see another Zika outbreak unless it’s sparked by one elsewhere in the Americas.

While Zika remains active and continues to be spread in areas with high numbers of Aedes aegypti, outbreaks appear to have peaked in many areas.

Brazil is reporting that Zika cases are down by 95 percent from last year and has declared an end of its public health emergency. Cummings says: “Cases in the Americas are on the decline compared to last year. So we might see fewer cases just because there are fewer cases happening in the rest of the hemisphere.”

The Miami study is one of three featured this week in Nature using genomic analysis to trace the spread of the Zika virus through the Americas.

In a commentary, Michael Worobey, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona, says this kind of analysis needs to become part of the first-line response to future infectious disease outbreaks. “We should be detecting such outbreaks within days or weeks through routine, massive, sequence-based approaches,” he writes, “not months or years later, when clinical symptoms have accumulated.”

Source: NPR

May 29, 2017: Baltimore Unveils Zika Preparedness Plan

Baltimore City officials announced they are taking a citywide approach to combat the spread of Zika virus and other mosquito-borne illnesses.

The Zika virus is spread by mosquito bites or unprotected sex and is linked to serious birth defects.

“Ensuring that our city is safe from mosquitos and the diseases that they carry is dependent upon the collaboration of residents, community organizations, businesses, and city agencies,” Mayor Catherine Pugh said in a statement. “I encourage everyone to do their part to help keep our loved ones healthy.”

Health officials said there have been 5,274 confirmed cases of Zika in the U.S., including 224 locally-transmitted cases in Florida and Texas, through April. There have been 15 cases reported in Baltimore, all of which included individuals who traveled to an area with active Zika transmission and contracted the virus there.

“There are two mosquitoes that carry Zika, and both types of mosquitoes can be found in this area,” Baltimore City Health Commissioner Leana Wen said. “For that reason, we need to be prepared in case Zika comes to Maryland as a locally-transmitted infection.”

Zika cannot be transmitted via casual contact, but can be transmitted through sexual contact. It can also be transmitted from a pregnant mother to her baby, health officials said.

Health officials said that most people who are infected with Zika do not show symptoms, which can include red eyes, joint pain, rash and fever, but can still pass the virus on to others.

One of the biggest dangers surrounding Zika is to pregnant women, who can spread the virus to their unborn child. The virus then can cause microcephaly, a serious birth defect that causes abnormally small heads and severe brain damage.

“Zika requires an all-hands-on-deck response. Every resident can help keep Zika and other diseases out of Baltimore by eliminating mosquito breeding grounds in their communities and taking precautions to prevent mosquito bites,” Wen said in a statement. “Prevention and education are critical because there is no vaccine or cure for Zika. The effects of this virus could devastate generations to come, so we must be vigilant and act now.”

Vector control is the No. 1 weapon.

“If there’s one thing you think about doing today, encourage everyone to eliminate standing water in your communities,” said Terry Hickey, with the Mayor’s Office of Human Services.

“And then to actually go out and use the approved materials and products at our sites to spray to keep mosquito proliferation at a minimum,” said Michael Braverman, with Baltimore City Housing.

City officials offered the following tips to help stop the spread of Zika and other diseases transmitted by mosquitoes:

Eliminate mosquito breeding areas: The type of mosquito that carries Zika only needs a bottle cap full of water to breed. Residents should eliminate all standing water around their homes and in their communities by removing any standing water in buckets, coolers or old tires; covering trash cans and keep recycling bins flipped over; clearing roof gutters; and treating birdbaths, ponds, or any outdoor still water with larvicide tablets.

Take extra caution while pregnant and before conceiving: Those planning to visit areas where Zika transmission is active should make sure to use insect repellent, wear light-weight long sleeves and pants, and treat their clothes with permethrin. Pregnant women should postpone trips to areas with active Zika transmission until after their pregnancy.
Protect homes from mosquitoes: Whenever possible, keep screens on all windows, shut doors and windows without screens, use air conditioning and repair damaged or torn holes in screens. When outside, use an EPA-registered insect repellent. Residents can also call 311 if they see standing water in their neighborhood for four days or more and cannot find a way to remove it themselves.

Protect homes from mosquitoes: Whenever possible, keep screens on all windows, shut doors and windows without screens, use air conditioning and repair damaged or torn holes in screens. When outside, use an EPA-registered insect repellent. Residents can also call 311 if they see standing water in their neighborhood for four days or more and cannot find a way to remove it themselves.

Take steps to prevent the spread of diseases after travel: After traveling to an area with Zika, use insect repellent for three weeks. To prevent sexual transmission, women who travel to an area with Zika should use condoms for eight weeks after they return, and all men should use condoms for six months after they return, regardless of whether they show symptoms.

Source: WBAL NBC TV

May 25, 2017: Mosquito Season In Full Swing In Ohio

Mosquito and tick season is officially off and running in Ohio. Mosquitoes will be at their blood-sucking worst from May through October, while ticks have been active since April and will stay active until September.

The mosquito species that is most active in Ohio has been known to carry the West Nile virus. Last year, there were 17 confirmed cases of West Nile among Ohio residents. About 80 percent of people who are infected with West Nile will not show symptoms, the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) says. Only one in 150 people infected with West Nile will develop serious symptoms, like high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis. These symptoms may last several weeks, and neurological effects may be permanent, the ODH says.

On the bright side, there is less reason to fear the Zika virus which has spread through parts of Central America and the Southeast U.S. The mosquito species that is known to transmit Zika has not been established in Ohio. However, a “cousin” of the mosquito has been found in different regions throughout Ohio and that speces has been known to transmit Zika.

The ODH says there were 95 travel-associated Zika cases in Ohio last year, all from travelers returning to the Buckeye State from Zika-impacted areas. There have been three travel-associated cases of Zika in 2017.

“You can take some simple precautions at home and when traveling to prevent potentially serious mosquito-borne diseases,” said Sietske de Fijter, ODH State Epidemiologist and Bureau Chief of Infectious Diseases, in a statement.

Source: Cleveland Patch

May 24, 2017: Health Officials Say More Cases Are Coming This Summer to Philadelphia

This from Mark Dent at BillyPenn.

The signs are already up. At the airport and on SEPTA buses and Regional Rail trains, the city’s Department of Public Health has posted ads zoomed in on a mosquito with the warning, “Keep These Suckers Out.” Underneath, a slogan reads, “Fight the bite. Prevent Zika.” In another ad, the Department of Health warns, “Mosquitoes aren’t the only ones that spread Zika. Wear a condom.”

The department’s goal is to get the word out quickly in hopes of curbing a Zika problem. While Philadelphians need not worry as much as residents of southern states, the disease is expected to be a bigger issue than last summer. Of the approximately 200 cases Pennsylvania has experienced since late 2015, about 25 percent were in Philadelphia. Steve Alles, bioterrorism and public health preparedness manager for the Department of Public Health, said he expects that number of infections to rise this summer compared to last year.

“The biggest concern we have,” he said, “is not letting Zika get into our own mosquito pools.”

“The way we could get a Zika outbreak here,” said Dr. Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at Penn, “is through our airport.”

The CDC expects the Aedes aegypti to carry the virus into parts of the southern United States, like Florida, Texas and other Gulf states. This breed of mosquito has been found farther north in rare cases, including once in Bucks County.

Philadelphia does have the Asian Tiger mosquito, known as the Aedes albopictus. It’s the same genus as the aegypti but a different species. It can carry Zika but would have to get it from a host.

So when Alles speaks of the concern, he’s referring to the possibility of Philadelphia’s Asian Tiger mosquitoes contracting Zika by biting somebody who returns from a southern state or foreign country with the virus. For every case last year, Zika patients were successfully prevented from spreading the virus in that fashion.

To reduce the possibility of Zika-carrying mosquitoes, which again are highly unlikely in Philadelphia, Jamieson recommends being mindful of standing water and making sure screens in houses are repaired. Another concern regarding Zika here — and elsewhere — is the spread of the disease through sexual contact. Both men and women can spread it sexually.

About 80 percent of people who contract Zika show no symptoms, but they can still pass on the virus. Those with symptoms experiencing a sickness similar to the flu.

Pregnant women or women about to become pregnant face the greatest risk. They can give birth to children with microcephaly or other development conditions. Last year, the CDC tracked 442 pregnant women in the US who had Zika and six percent had a child with Zika-related birth defects.

“Though it will have low impact on our city,” Alles said, “it will have high impact on people that get the disease.”

Jamieson said the Health Department’s warnings about practicing safe sex after visits to infected areas and controlling the mosquito population are important to make people aware of these risks. She recommends making sure screens on windows are prepared and preventing mosquitos from breeding in watery areas.

“I pass West Philly and see tires on the side of the street,” she said. “If I’m in that community I should tip those tires or they’re going to gather water. These mosquitoes can breed in a bottle cap.

“We don’t know the extent to which we are vulnerable. We do know the preventive actions to take are good things to do anyway because we don’t want to breed mosquitoes.”

Source: BillyPenn

May 23, 2017: Double Trouble? Zika Mosquito May Transmit Dengue, Chikungunya with One Bite.

Aedes aegypti, the primary mosquito that carries Zika virus, may also transmit chikungunya and dengue viruses with one bite, a new study has found.

The findings shed new light on what is known as a co- infection, which scientists say is not yet fully understood and may be fairly common in areas experiencing outbreaks.
“A mosquito, in theory, could give you multiple viruses at once,” said Claudia Ruckert, post-doctoral researcher at Colorado State University (CSU) in the US.

The team infected mosquitoes in the lab with multiple kinds of viruses to learn more about the transmission of more than one infection from a single mosquito bite.
The researchers found that mosquitoes in the lab can transmit all three viruses simultaneously, although this is likely to be extremely rare in nature.

While they described the lab results as surprising, researchers said there is no reason to believe that these co- infections are more severe than being infected with one virus at a time.
“Dual infections in humans, however, are fairly common, or more common than we would have thought,” Ruckert said.

The researchers had expected to find that one virus would prove to be dominant and outcompete the others in the midgut of the mosquito where the infections establish and replicate before being transmitted to humans.

“It is interesting that all three replicate in a really small area in the mosquito’s body,” Ruckert said.

“When these mosquitoes get infected with two or three different viruses, there is almost no effect that the viruses have on each other in the same mosquito,” she said.

The first report of chikungunya and dengue virus co- infection occurred in 1967, researchers said. More recently, co-infections of Zika and dengue viruses, Zika and chikungunya, and all three viruses have been reported during various outbreaks, including the recent outbreak of Zika virus in North and South America.

Source: Daily Excelsior

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

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

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