Army presence diminishes refusal to entry in houses, say health agents

Fabrício Lobel – Folha de S.Paulo, 02/17/2016

Behind the house curtains, Nancy Wolf, 81, a retired teacher, notices the movement in front of her gate. A man announces he works for the city hall in an action against the mosquito Aedes aegypti.

She hesitates a bit, but looks at the two Army soldiers in uniforms accompanying the health agent and allows them to enter her home.
“I don´t open the door for anyone. We get apprehensive. I felt safer just because of the Army,” says Nancy, who lives in Santana neighborhood. Part of the northern district of São Paulo underwent an operation to hunt down the Aedes larvae, promoted by the city hall and the Army.

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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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Could chemicals — rather than the Zika virus — be to blame for birth defects in Brazil?

Ariana Cha and Lena Sun – Washington Post, 02/17/2016

While the rest of the world is focused on hunting down mosquitoes with Zika, a group of doctors and researchers in Argentina has published a report making the provocative argument that a pesticide, rather than the virus, is to blame for the alarming number of birth defects being reported in Brazil.

The University Network of Environment and Health wrote that pyriproxyfen, which is added to drinking water to stop the development of mosquito larvae, may be causing something in the fetal development process to go awry when ingested by pregnant women and may be leading to the babies being born with microcephaly — a condition defined by abnormally small heads and underdeveloped brains.

That idea is one of a number of alternate theories about the cause of the crisis that has been making its way around social media in recent days and has prompted a swift rebuttal from health officials from the United States, Brazil and other regions.

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Conspiracy theories about Zika spread through Brazil with the virus

Andrew Jacobs – The New York Times, 02/16/2016

SALVADOR, Brazil — The Zika virus, some Brazilians are convinced, is the inadvertent creation of a British biotech company that has been releasing genetically modified mosquitoes to combat dengue fever in Brazil. Others here and elsewhere see it as a plot by global elites to depopulate the earth and install a “one-world government.”

And after a group of Argentine doctors asserted that a larvicide, not the mosquito-borne Zika virus, was to blame for a surge in cases of the birth defect known as microcephaly, Brazil’s southernmost state went so far over the weekend as to ban the use of the larvicide in its drinking water — even though scientists and health officials insist there is no such link.

Like Zika itself, rumors about it have replicated with viral ferocity through social media and word of mouth, frustrating the Brazilian authorities as they grapple with a poorly understood pathogen whose origins and implications are still something of a mystery. With many of the rumors started and spread abroad, Brazil’s Health Ministry has been scrambling to do damage control.

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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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Brazil says a third adult has died of Zika

Dom Phillips, Nick Miroff – Washington Post, 02/11/2016

Brazil’s health ministry said Thursday that a 20-year-old woman infected with Zika has become the country’s third adult fatality linked to the virus, but scientists caution that they’re only beginning to identify Zika’s potential risks to human health.

After falling ill last April, the woman began coughing up blood, and died after a 12-day hospitalization, according to Brazilian government researchers. The cause of death was registered as pneumonia, but her blood samples later tested positive for Zika.

Brazilian researchers said the patient’s respiratory problems were unusual for a case of Zika, so other factors could have contributed to her death. “She could have developed bronchial pneumonia and the association with the Zika virus made this worse,” said Pedro Vasconcelos, the Brazilian government scientist who led the tests.

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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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Brazil and University of Texas Reach Deal on Zika Virus

WTOP/AP, 02/11/2016

Brazil is signing an agreement with the University of Texas to develop a vaccine against the Zika virus, the country’s health minister said Thursday, adding the goal is for the vaccine to be ready for clinical testing within 12 months.

Marcelo Castro said at a news conference that the Brazilian government will invest $1.9 million in the research, which will be jointly conducted by the University of Texas and the Evandro Chagas Institute in the Amazonian city of Belem.

He said the Health Ministry also has reached vaccine partnerships with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and is looking to work with pharmaceutical giant GSK.

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