Researchers weigh risks of Zika spreading at Rio Olympics

Simon Romero, Rebecca R. Ruiz – New York Times, 01/28/2016

RIO DE JANEIRO — With about 500,000 people expected to visit Brazil for the Olympics here this year, researchers are scrambling to figure how much of a risk the Games might pose in spreading the Zika virus around the world.

Infectious disease specialists are particularly focused on the potential for Zika to spread to the United States. As many as 200,000 Americans are expected to travel to Rio de Janeiro for the Olympics in August. When they return to the Northern Hemisphere and its summer heat, far more mosquitoes will be around to potentially transmit the virus in the United States.

Brazilian researchers say they believe that Zika, which has been linked to severe birth defects, came to their country during another major sports event — the 2014 World Cup — when hundreds of thousands of visitors flowed into Brazil. Virus trackers here say that the strain raging in Brazil probably came from Polynesia, where an outbreak was rattling small islands around the Pacific.

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Reports of Zika-Linked Birth Defect Rise in Brazil

Simon Romero – The New York Times, 01/27/2016

Brazil’s health ministry issued new figures on Wednesday about the Zika virus that offered reason for continued concern, but also a glimmer of hope.

On its own, the virus is not normally life-threatening. The most common symptoms include fever and joint pain, and most people who become infected have no symptoms at all.

The big question surrounds the virus’s link to other ailments. The health authorities in Brazil said Wednesday that reported cases of microcephaly — a rare condition in which infants are born with abnormally small heads — had climbed to 4,180 since October, a 7 percent increase from the previous tally last week.

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Brazil Will Deploy Troops to Spread Awareness of Zika Virus

Simon Romero – The New York Times, 01/26/2016

Brazil’s government has decided to deploy 220,000 troops for a day next month to spread awareness about the Zika virus, which has been linked to severe birth defects in thousands of infants.

The move came as Brazil’s top health official acknowledged that the country was “badly losing the battle” against mosquito-borne diseases like Zika.

Marcelo Castro, the country’s health minister, disclosed the troop mobilization in an interview with the newspaper O Globo, and said he expected it to occur on Feb. 13. A spokeswoman for the Health Ministry later clarified that the troop deployment was expected to last only a day, largely involving personnel from different branches of the armed forces going door-to-door handing out pamphlets.

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Zika Virus May be Linked to Surge in Rare Syndrome in Brazil

Simon Romero, Donald G. McNeil Jr. – The New York Times, 01/21/2016

A mosquito-borne virus that has been linked to severe brain damage in infants may be causing another serious health crisis as well, Brazilian officials and doctors warn: hundreds of cases of a rare syndrome in which patients can be almost completely paralyzed for weeks.

The virus, called Zika, made its way to Brazil recently but is spreading rapidly around Latin America and the Caribbean. Nearly 4,000 cases of brain damage, in which babies were born with unusually small heads, have been registered in Brazil in the past year, and this month American officials advised pregnant women to delay traveling to any of nearly 20 countries in the Western Hemisphere, as well as Puerto Rico, where mosquitoes are spreading the virus.

But disease specialists in Brazil say that the virus may also be causing a surge in another rare condition, the potentially life-threatening Guillain-Barré syndrome, in which a person’s immune system attacks part of the nervous system, leaving some patients unable to move and dependent on life support.

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Brazil Zika Outbreak: More Babies Born with Birth Defects

BBC News, 01/21/2016

New figures from Brazil show a further rise in the number of babies born with abnormally small heads to mothers infected with the Zika virus.

There have been 3,893 suspected cases of microcephaly since October, when the authorities first noticed a surge, up from 3,500 in last week’s report.

Zika is transmitted by the bite of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which also spreads dengue and chikungunya.

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Transgenic Mosquito Ready to Join Brazil’s War on Zika Virus

Anthony Boadle – Reuters, 01/19/2016

A genetically modified mosquito has helped reduce the proliferation of mosquitoes spreading Zika and other dangerous viruses in Brazil, its developers said on Tuesday.

The self-limiting strain of the Aedes aegypti mosquito was developed by Oxitec, the UK-subsidiary of U.S. synthetic biology company Intrexon. The male mosquitoes are modified so their offspring will die before reaching adulthood and being able to reproduce.

Oxitec, which produces the mosquitoes in Campinas, announced it will build a second facility in nearby Piracicaba, Sao Paulo state, following strong results there in controlling the population of the Aedes vector that also carries the dengue virus.

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Zika Virus Scare Spreads as Brazil Gears up for Carnival, Olympics

Reuters, 01/18/2016

Olympic and tourism officials in Brazil downplayed risks for foreign visitors from the mosquito-borne Zika virus on Monday, even as the health ministry warned pregnant women to consult doctors before visiting the country amid a widening scare.

Alarm over the virus, linked to a rising number of mental birth defects among children of mothers infected by it, comes two weeks before nationwide Carnival celebrations, a highlight of Brazil’s tourism calendar.

It also comes 200 days before Rio de Janeiro hosts the opening ceremonies of the 2016 Olympics, the first in South America.

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