We are less than 24-hours from the start of the 2016 Summer Olympics and not only is the Zika virus still a leading story in Brazil, it is a leading story in the United States as well. On July 29, 2016, the State of Florida reported that data collected in Miami-Dade and Broward counties showed that four Zika virus cases that were recently diagnosed were likely the result of local transmission.
State health officials narrowed the active transmission of the Zika virus to a small area in Miami-Dade County, just north of downtown Miami. On the following Monday, August 1st, the CDC urged pregnant women not to visit the South Florida neighborhood where new cases of the Zika virus have emerged. The Washington Post noted that this is the first time officials have warned against travel to part of the continental United States because of the outbreak of an infectious disease.
Since my last post, Zika Virus Updates: U.S. Congress Struggles With Funding Bills But No Adverse Economic Impacts Expected, there’s been lots of activity on this topic. This post provides info on a few of them:
U.S. Congress Fails to Provide Funding for Zika Virus Research: Any guess that the U.S. Congress has approved $0 for Zika virus research and it is August 2016? Regrettably, the House and the Senate found themselves at a stale mate on this topic just before their summer recess. Knowing that Congress had about two weeks to get their act together before both chambers shut-down for a seven-week summer break, I drafted an e-communique to both speakers of the house and the senate, and copied my two senators and congressional district representative. Needless to say I expressed my displeasure of their shenanigans on such a serious subject.
A key point that was important to convey to my congressional representatives is that not quite two years ago, these two elected bodies were up in arms as the U.S. experienced its first case of the Ebola virus. Not only was there finger pointing and criticism regarding the lack of planning and prevention by CDC and the Obama administration, as one news analysts reported, “the politics of fear showed up in a big way”. After all was said and not done, less than 10 persons contracted the disease, and only one U.S. death was reported.
Fast forward to today and here we go again except the enemy is the Zika virus and the culprits are the mosquitoes that spread the disease. This time, CDC was prepared and sounded the alarm well in advance of warming temperatures and peak mosquito breeding season. Back in February, President Obama asked Congress to provide $1.9 billion in emergency funding to fight this mosquito-borne illness that can cause devastating birth defects. Since the Zika virus is spread by mosquitoes, the chances of adverse health effects is much greater than the threat of the Ebola virus. Yet, both the House and the Senate struggled over how to fund a public health threat. Unbelievable!
Time Magazine reported on July 14, 2016 that both Democrats and Republicans said they wanted to spend money to prevent the spread of the Zika virus, but political disagreements ultimately trumped numerous health warnings. Unbelievable!
As of today, a total of 15 locally transmitted Zika virus cases have been diagnosed in Florida. Health officials are doing everything possible to contain the spread of the virus to a 10 square mile radius just north of downtown Miami.
New Zika Vaccine from Inovio Pharmaceuticals and GeneOne Life Science Ready for Human Testing [Ref 1]: One bright spot in this dismal story is that multiple vaccines are under way as pharmaceutical companies around the world race to develop a way to stop the Zika virus. Inovio Pharmaceuticals and GeneOne Life Science have announced that 40 healthy volunteers will undergo Phase I clinical testing for safety in a few weeks, according to a report in Technology Review.
This vaccine relies on synthetic Zika genes that are inserted into a DNA-carrying vessel called a plasmid. According to Technology Review, this approach aims to teach the immune system to attack the Zika virus, a technique that Inovio is also trying to apply to other viruses, such as the flu virus.
Advantages include quicker manufacturing and greater safety, since there is no actual Zika virus involved. The technology also sidesteps the burdensome need to keep vaccines frozen.
Review quoted Anthony Fauci, director of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infection Diseases, as saying that we won’t know if Zika vaccines are working until early 2018.
(Update): The NIH initially planned to begin their clinical trials in September, but announced on August 3, 2016 that they have injected two human volunteers with an experimental DNA-based Zika vaccine, a month ahead of its projected schedule for vaccine development.
California scientists testing bacteria-infected mosquitoes [Ref 2]: Scientists in California are testing the use of bacteria-infected Aedes aegypti mosquitoes to reduce their numbers and prevent the spread of the Zika virus. Hundreds of thousands of mosquitoes have been released in Clovis, CA as a part of this experiment.
This unconventional experiment is the collaboration between local government and the Universities of California and Kentucky. The plan is to release twice a week until an estimated 640,000 male mosquitoes have been introduced into the environment. As a reminder, male mosquitoes don’t bite. This process has been used with other mosquitoes, but not the Aedes aegypti, and it has never been used in the U.S. until now.
The males have been purposely infected in the lab with a strand of Wolbachia bacteria. When they mate with uninfected females, the result is “cytoplasmic incompatibility”. This causes females to lay eggs that won’t hatch leaving fewer mosquitoes capable of transferring the Zika virus.
Claflin University Researchers Present Zika Study [Ref 3]: The Times & Democrat reports that Dr. Omar Bagasra, a biology professor at Claflin University (Orangeburg, SC) and director of the South Carolina Center for Biotechnology, led a group of faculty and graduate student researchers in the investigation of the mechanisms by which the Zika virus causes various neurological diseases. The team’s research is titled “Infectivity of Immature Neurons to Zika Virus: A Link to Congenital Zika Syndrome.” Bagasra presented the results of the study on June 19th at the American Society of Microbiology/2016 Microbe Conference in Boston, Massachusetts.
Bagasra and his research team discovered that Zika virus primarily kills or damages brain cells that are growing very fast, are still immature, and are found in a fetal brain. The virus has no significant effect on mature neurons (nerve cells) found in an adult.
“The big mystery is how the Zika virus causes small brain size in newborns whose mothers have been infected with the virus but show no apparent brain illness,” Bagasra said. “Our results suggest that undeveloped or undifferentiated neurons lacking mature structures are highly permissive to the Zika infection during the early stages of fetal brain growth and development (neurogenesis) in fetal brains.
He goes on to say, “However, developed adult (differentiated) neurons are relatively resistant to the virus. This explains the rare occurrence of neurological complications in adults infected with Zika.”
South Korea’s Olympic Uniforms Protect Against Zika Virus [Ref 4]: A few athletes have opted-out of the 2016 Olympic games, however, most have already arrived in Brazil. The team from South Korea is taking special precautions against the Zika virus and will be wearing specially designed uniforms that will help protect them from the mosquito-borne Zika virus.
The team’s uniform offers good physical coverage with long sleeves, pants, and jackets, and are infused with repellent designed to ward off the disease-carrying pests.
New paper-based Zika virus test [Ref 5]: Engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have created a paper-based test for the Zika virus that shows great promise in the war against this infectious disease.
The test exhibits exceptional sensitivity and is not only able to distinguish related viruses such as Dengue, but can even differentiate between various strains of the Zika virus.
Building on technology that the team previously developed for detection of the Ebola virus, the paper-based test relies on gene-editing CRISPR technology. Results are indicated by color, which appears within three hours. The test can be stored at room temperature for up to a year and each test is reported to cost less than one ($1) US dollar to manufacture.
This low cost, paper-based test for the Zika virus may prove to be a valuable resource for healthcare workers without access to electronic diagnostic equipment and limited access to refrigeration for storage of vaccines and other medical supplies.
Zika Oil-Patch Red-Wing Solution [Ref 6]: Individuals who makes their living working outdoors know the challenges of bracing for the seasonal environmental elements. No one knows this better than oil platform workers. In addition to combatting wind, rain, ice, snow and harsh sunlight, the elements include pests such as gnats and mosquitoes.
Enter Red Wing Shoes to the rescue. They recently introduced some new products treated by VectorGuard – a mosquito resistant technology purposed for preventing the transmission of the Zika virus and other infectious diseases. VectorGuard binds the pesticide permethrin to flame resistant and non-flame resistant apparel. The treatment aggravates the bug or the mosquito so that their feet become hot when they land on the fabric, so they do not stay there. Notably, permethrin is the only pesticide that has been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency for this application.
While I am looking forward to watching some of the summer Olympic games, I’ll also be wondering how well local and state governments are implementing their plans to combat the Zika virus in local neighborhoods of Rio and others cities in Brazil, South and Central America, Puerto Rico, and cities, towns, and communities in the southern half of the United States.
Hasta la próxima vez (Until next time)!!!
- Zika Vaccine Slated for Human Testing, by Douglas Clark for AIChE Chenected, June 27, 2016, http://www.aiche.org/chenected/2016/06/zika-vaccine-slated-human-testing
- Enlisting Mosquitoes to Fight Zika, Source: New York Times Video/Science, http://www.nytimes.com/video/science/100000004459613/enlisting-mosquitoes-to-fight-zika.html?emc=edit_th_20160610&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=58109710,
- Claflin University Researchers Present Zika Study, a special report to the Times & Democrat, June 25, 2016, http://thetandd.com/news/claflin-researchers-present-zika-study/article_16fee8c9-3b23-50b1-90e1-450a76e26e68.html
- South Korea designed its Olympic uniforms to protect against Zika, by Chris Weller for Tech Insider, http://www.techinsider.io/south-korea-olympic-uniforms-protect-against-zika-2016-5?utm_content=bufferbd1e1&utm_medium=social&utm_source=.com&utm_campaign=buffer-ti facebook
- Bioengineers develop cheap paper-based Zika test, by Douglas Clark in ChE-nected – a publication of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE), May 10, 2016, http://www.aiche.org/chenected/2016/05/bioengineers-develop-cheap-paper-based-zika-test
- The Notorious Zika Virus Is Now An Oilfield Concern, Here’s How To Fight It, by Jeff Reed for OilPro, http://oilpro.com/post/24199/otc-2016-zika-oil-patch-red-wing-solution