Brazil says there is ‘almost zero’ risk of Zika during Olympics. Really?

Dom Phillips – The Washington Post, 07/06/2016

A small but growing number of athletes, from golfer Rory McIlroy to cyclist Tejay van Garderen, have canceled their trips to the Summer Olympics in Rio due to fears about the Zika epidemic.

But what are the chances that visitors and athletes could become infected?

“Almost zero,” Brazil’s new health minister, Ricardo Barros, said recently. He and other officials note there are far fewer mosquitoes active in August, when the Games are being held, because it’s winter in the Southern Hemisphere. Already, reports of new cases have plunged in Rio state — from 3,000 to 3,500 a week earlier in the year to just 30 cases a week in June, officials say. Meanwhile, 80 percent of the city’s buildings have been inspected for mosquito breeding sites, authorities maintain.

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W.H.O. Says Olympics Should Go Ahead in Brazil Despite Zika Virus

The Olympic Games should go on as planned, the World Health Organization said Tuesday, and athletes and spectators, except for pregnant women, should not hesitate to attend so long as they take precautions against infection with the Zika virus.

Pregnant women were advised not to go to Brazil for the event or theParalympics. The W.H.O. previously told them to avoid any area where Zika is circulating.

Some attendees may contract the mosquito-borne infection and even bring it back home, but the risk in August — midwinter in Rio de Janeiro — is relatively low, W.H.O. officials said.

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Nobody is completely sure which mosquito spreads Zika in Brazil

Will Carless – Global Post, 04/06/2016

The World Health Organization’s fact sheet on the Zika virus contains a wealth of useful information about the mysterious disease that has spread across the Americas and is blamed for a surge in birth defects in Brazil.

 

One of its leading facts may sound pretty benign: Zika is transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes, mainly the Aedes aegypti species in tropical countries like this one.

There’s only one problem: It’s not actually a “fact” that this particular mosquito spreads Zika in Brazil.

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WHO: $56 needed million to fight Zika outbreak in coming months

Brady Dennis – The Washington Post, 02/17/2016

The World Health Organization says it will take $56 million to kickstart a coordinated international response to the Zika virus outbreak racing through much of the Americas, and the WHO plans to tap a newly created emergency contingency fund to pay for the initial efforts.

In a lengthy action plan published Tuesday,  the organization said a hefty chunk of the money will go toward disease surveillance, which will include tracking new Zika cases and the suspected birth defects and rare autoimmune syndrome that scientists suspect are linked to the mosquito-borne virus. More funding will be used to help provide counseling to pregnant women, as well as to help communities with mosquito-control programs. Still more funds will go toward research to speed the development of new vaccines, treatments and diagnostic tests, as well as to study whether and how Zika is causing serious conditions such as microcephaly.

More than half the money will be spread among a collection of international partners, including non-governmental organizations and research institutions such as Unicef, AmeriCares, Save the Children, the International Medical Corps and the University of Texas Medical Branch. The remaining funds will be disbursed within the WHO and its regional offices in the Americas — known as the Pan American Health Organization — to help carry out the plan through June. Earlier this month, the organization declared the Zika outbreak and the accompanying spike in congenital brain abnormalities in newborns to be a public health emergency of international concern.

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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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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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Health Officials Want More Zika Samples, Data From Brazil

The New York Times/AP, 02/04/2016

Brazil is not sharing enough samples and disease data to let researchers determine whether the Zika virus is, as feared, linked to the increased number of babies born with abnormally small heads in the South American country, U.N. and U.S. health officials say.

Without viruses from Brazil — the epicenter of the ongoing Zika crisis — laboratories in the United States and Europe are being forced to work with samples from previous outbreaks, and is frustrating efforts to develop diagnostic tests, drugs and vaccines. Scientists tell The Associated Press that having so little to work with is hampering their ability to track the virus’ evolution.

One major problem appears to be Brazilian law. At the moment, it is technically illegal for Brazilian researchers and institutes to share genetic material, including blood samples containing Zika and other viruses.

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Exclusive: Brazil Says Zika Virus Outbreak Worse Than Believed

Anthony Boadle, Lisandra Paraguassu, 02/02/2016

Brazil’s top health official said on Monday that the Zika virus outbreak is proving to be worse than believed because most cases show no symptoms, but improved testing should allow the country to get a better grip on the burgeoning public health crisis.

Health Minister Marcelo Castro told Reuters that Brazil will start mandatory reporting of cases by local governments next week when most states will have labs equipped to test for Zika, the mosquito-borne virus that has quickly spread through Latin America. The virus has no vaccine or cure at present.

On Monday, the World Health Organization declared the Zika outbreak to be a global emergency, a decision that should help fast-track international action and research priorities.

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