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Alert the Squad!

At Mosquito Squad, your health concerns
are ours.

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.

 

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

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

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