Zika epidemic prompts pharma rush to develop vaccine

Clive Cookson – Financial Times, 02/13/2016

The global pharmaceutical and bioscience industry has responded swiftly to the Zika epidemic, with 15 companies involved in vaccine development and 20 in making diagnostic tests for the mosquito-borne virus, which is associated with birth defects.

In update briefings in Geneva and Washington on Friday, senior officials from the World Health Organisation and the US National Institutes of Health contrasted the industry’s response to Zika with its slow reaction to previous epidemics, particularly Ebola.

“We had been working on an Ebola vaccine for 10 years and had no interest from industry,” said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “We made a West Nile vaccine several years ago but couldn’t find a pharmaceutical partner.

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Why Zika is not the new Ebola

Michael Edelstein – World Economic Forum, 02/05/2016

A rise in birth defects in the Americas is increasingly linked to Zika virus, previously undetected in that part of the world. Regardless of the underlying cause for these congenital abnormalities, the key to success lies in strong global health leadership. While some lessons from the Ebola outbreak can be applied, this new threat presents a different challenge and needs a different response.

 

In December 2015, the journal Nature asked infectious disease experts to predict which pathogens would trigger the next global crisis. None suggested Zika virus, a mosquito-borne disease first identified 70 years ago in Africa. Yet, a month later, the World Health Organization (WHO) is ‘deeply concerned’ and predicts up to four million cases in the Americas over the next year, including in the United States.

 

Zika virus infection causes mild, flu-like symptoms in most cases. What prompted concern was not the infection, but Brazil’s live birth information system (a system not readily available in less-developed countries) detecting a 30-fold increase in the number of babies born with microcephaly, a congenital defect limiting brain development. If the spreading virus is associated with microcephaly, as evidence increasingly suggests, the global social-economic repercussions could be severe. A large increase in the number of children born with profound learning disabilities worldwide would have severe human as well as socio-economic repercussions globally, causing productivity loss and high associated healthcare costs.

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In Brazil, are the poor more likely to contract zika?

Sam Cowie – Aljazeera, 02/12/2016

In Ibura, a poor neighbourhood in Recife, north eastern Brazil, Gleyse Kelly, 27, breastfeeds her three-month-old daughter, Giovanna.

“I hope that she will be able to walk, talk and go on to study,” Gleyse says.

Giovanna has microcephaly, a condition which causes babies to be born with smaller than average heads and suffer varying degrees of brain damage, leading to developmental problems and severe learning difficulties. Some die shortly after birth.

Experts say that it is very likely that Giovanna will require full-time care for the rest of her life, putting enormous pressure on Gleyse, a mother of four who earns only $250 a month working as a toll booth attendant, and who receives $25 in government child benefits. Her husband is unemployed.

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Rousseff Bets on Mosquito Hunt to Regain Popularity

Andrea Jube – Valor, 02/11/2016

President Dilma Rousseff bets on the fight against the Zika virus and the microcephaly epidemic as a vaccine to contain the progress of Operation Car Wash investigations on former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. In the opinion of Rousseff aides, the affected image of her predecessor hits the president directly and makes her more vulnerable to the impeachment that although asleep, it has not been buried. She will command the mega-operation scheduled for next Saturday, when 220,000 military officials will take the streets to battle the Aedes aegypti mosquito.

Presidential aides heard by Valor recognize that the deconstruction of Mr. Lula’s image spills in Ms. Rousseff, although she has chosen not to make a public defense of her predecessor. “Lula is her political guarantor and of our government,” says an advisor close to President Rousseff. For him, with Mr. Lula weakened politically, the government is further weakened.

The Car Wash siege of Mr. Lula has narrowed down in recent days. On the eve of Carnival, Judge Sérgio Moro authorized the Federal Police to open a specific inquiry to investigate the connection of a ranch in Atibaia, São Paulo, visited by the former president, with construction company OAS, one of the targets of the operation. The property is registered in the name of two partners of Fábio Luís Lula da Silva, son of Mr. Lula: Fernando Bittar and Jonas Suassuna, partners at Gamecorp, which renders services to telco Oi. None of them have commented the allegations yet.

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As Zika Spreads, an Unexpeceted Winner in Brazil’s Mosquito War

Anna Edgerton – Bloomberg Business, 02/10/2016

Zika is a rarity in Brazil: a crisis that isn’t widely blamed on Dilma Rousseff’s government. And a mobilization against mosquitoes may even help the president climb out of a political hole.

In the northeastern town of Limoeiro, corruption scandals and a deepening recession have eroded support for Rousseff’s Workers’ Party. But the town in Pernambuco state is also at the center of Brazil’s viral epidemic. Glecya Aparecida Fernandes de Melo, a local lab technician whose whole family has fallen ill, says people there are signing up for government initiatives to combat the disease, rather than blaming politicians or organizing protests.

“We need to put aside this political bickering and be more united in the education campaign, or else this outbreak will get worse,” Fernandes said. “We have to take back our city from the mosquito.”

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Study in Brazil links Zika virus to eye damage in babies

Catherine Saint Louis – The New York Times, 02/09/16

Infants infected with the Zika virus may be born not only with unusually small heads, but also with eye abnormalities that threaten vision, researchers reported on Tuesday in the journal JAMA Ophthalmology.

The study described damage to the retina or optic nerve in 10 of 29 newborns examined at Roberto Santos General Hospital in Salvador, Brazil. All the infants were presumed to have been infected with the Zika virus and had small heads, a condition called microcephaly. Other causes of the defect, like infection with rubella or toxoplasmosis, were ruled out.

Seven out of the 10 newborns had defects in both eyes, while three infants had damage in a single eye. The most common problems were black speckled lesions in the back of the eye, large areas of tissue damage in the retina itself, or damage in the layer of blood vessels and tissue below the retina.

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Zika Virus: Survey Shows Many Latin Americans Lack Faith in Handling of Crisis

Jessica Glenza – The Guardian, 02/09/2016

Many Latin Americans doubt that public health officials in their countries can contain the Zika virus, but nevertheless said they find it reasonable to follow official advice and delay having children, a new study has shown.

The virus, which has spread rapidly through the Americas, has been linked to a rise in microcephaly in Brazil, a debilitating birth defect where children are born with abnormally small heads. Last week the World Health Organisation declared the wave of birth defects a public health emergency of international concern, but, other than that it is carried by mosquitoes, there is little scientific knowledge about Zika.

The study, provided exclusively to the Guardian by the data analysis firm RIWI Corporation, found that not only did some Latin Americans lack confidence in their governments’ response to the virus, but many were unsure how it is spread.

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