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Zika Virus Updates: Holiday Travel Warnings and A Conundrum in Columbia

 

Zika-virus_mosquitos_andre-penner-photograperAbout three months ago, Zika Virus Updates: CDC Issues U.S. Travel Warning and Other Activities, was published on this blog.  We were heading into the Rio Summer Olympic Games and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) had issued a travel warning within the U.S. to the State of Florida. Since then, the 2016 Summer Olympic Games have come and gone and to date, there have been no confirmed cases of Zika virus transmission to any of the athletes or visitors to Brazil.

Three months later and we are now in the month of November. Super Tuesday or National Election Day, has come and gone. While no one will dispute that this election year was d-i-f-f-e-r-e-n-t, a similar designation may apply to the upcoming holiday travel season depending on your destination.

Travel Advisories: If you are traveling internationally or to a U.S. Territory, check with CDC to see if your destination is on their Zika Travel List [Ref 1]. In addition to the Zika Travel List, I’d also suggest that you visit CDC’s Traveler’s Health [Ref 2] web page for a complete list of vaccines, medicines, and advice that are either required or suggested. However, if you are traveling within the United States, to date, the only area that has been listed of concern to the CDC is South Florida which has reported several cases of local mosquito-borne Zika virus transmission.

Funding for Zika Virus Research Approved: Another carry over topic from the last post is Congressional funding for Zika Virus related research. During the first week of August 2016, members of the House and the Senate found themselves at a stale mate on this topic just before their summer recess. Regrettably, they failed to get their acts together to fund a bill before both chambers shut-down for a seven-week summer break.

zika-virus--mosquito-in-the-usCongress came back from summer recess on September 6th and as expected, a Senate vote failed to advance $1.1 billion in funding for a Zika response. After nearly seven months of bickering and finger-pointing, members of Congress finally agreed to allocate $1.1 billion to help fight the spread and effects of the Zika Virus on September 29, 2016.

Science Magazine [Ref 3] tells us the $1.1 billion deal includes $394 million for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), $245 million for the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), and $152 million for the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH).  There is also $66 million allocated to health care for people affected by Zika in Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories.

This funding was approved just two days shy of CDC running out of money to fight the Zika virus epidemic.

The Cockroach of Mosquitoes: Its resilience has earned Aedes aegypti, the mosquito species at the center of the Zika crisis, a reputation as “the cockroach of mosquitoes.” In addition to being able to breed in a volume of water the size of a bottle cap, their eggs can survive for a year in unfavorable conditions. The females also lay their eggs in batches in multiple spots in order to ensure the survival of their spawn. [Ref 4]

An Interesting Zika Virus Conundrum: Here’s a question that has researchers studying the Zika virus epidemic scratching their heads, Why has the world’s second-largest outbreak after Brazil produced so few birth defects? The New York Times reported on October 31st that “In Brazil, more than 2,000 babies have been born with microcephaly, abnormally small heads and brain damage caused by the Zika virus. In Colombia, officials had predicted there might be as many as 700 such babies by the end of this year. There have been merely 47.” [Ref 5]

The CDC has updated these results thru November 3, 2016 to show that there has been 26 infants born and five (5) pregnancy losses with birth defects in the U.S.

The Times article goes on to say, “The gap has been seen all over the Americas. According to the World Health Organization, the United States has 28 cases — almost all linked to women infected elsewhere. Guatemala has 15, and Martinique has 12.”

While it is correct to assume that everyone is ecstatic that the rest of the Americas has not been affected as northeastern Brazil, most experts, however, are at a loss as to why? Some of the possible explanations given are [Ref 5]:

  • Columbia’s population is less than a quarter of Brazil’s.
  • Half the residents of Columbia live at higher altitudes where mosquitoes are rarer.
  • Zika arrived later in Columbia (late 2015) compared to early 2014 for Brazil.
  • Columbia has just completed a health campaign to combat chikungunya, therefore, the country was less hesitant to invoke anti-mosquito battalions.
  • More pregnant Columbian women, knowledgeable of the tragedy that was unfolding in Brazil, may have either sought abortions in greater numbers or delayed pregnancy altogether.

Testing on Experimental Zika Virus: Last but not least, NPR reports that federal scientists have launched another test in human volunteers of a Zika vaccine. This one uses a more traditional approach than an experiment that started in August. This experimental vaccine, called ZPIV, has already proved effective when designed to target a virus similar to Zika, called Japanese Encephalitis.

In closing, the World Health Organization reports that the Zika virus has been identified in 73 nations as of Nov. 3. The CDC reports that about 4,000 Zika virus cases have been reported in the continental United Sates and Hawaii, including 139 cases among people who acquired the disease domestically. More than 30,000 cases have been diagnosed in Puerto Rico. Seventy-five (75) volunteers are being recruited to test the experimental vaccine.

Sources Cited:

  1. Traveler’s Health: Going to Visit Friends or Family in an Area with Zika?, Centers for Disease Control, https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/visit-family-friends-area-with-zika
  2. Traveler’s Health: Vaccine, Medicines, Advice, Centers for Disease Control, https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/
  3. S. officials welcome new Zika funding, but say delays hurt, by Jon Cohen for Science Magazine, October 3, 2016, http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/10/us-officials-welcome-new-zika-funding-say-delays-hurt
  4. Zika Alert: Is Aerial Insecticide Safe?, by By Jeneen Interlandi for Consumer Reports, September 1, 2016, http://www.consumerreports.org/insect-repellent/is-aerial-insecticide-safe/
  5. Colombia Is Hit Hard by Zika, but Not by Microcephaly, by Donald G McNeil, Jr. and Julia Symmes Cobb, New York Times, October 31, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/01/health/colombia-zika-microcephaly.html?utm_campaign=KHN%3A+First+Edition&utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=36802481&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-85FFqtobzbLiWnGdAcygSYuWnwFKlF5dYf1H297ETP-3kkPlEwfX9u-tWIVUTT2EE4vrNaiSxlDOHFGodHslysWLjgCw&_hsmi=36802481&_r=1

 

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About Vi Brown

Vi is principal and CEO of Prophecy Consulting Group, LLC, an Arizona firm that provides business and engineering services to private and public clients. Prior to establishing her consulting practice in 2001, Vi worked with Motorola, Maricopa County Government, Pacific Gas & Electric, CH2M Hill, and Procter & Gamble. As an adjunct faculty member, Vi teaches undergraduate calculus classes and graduate level environmental courses. She is also a professional speaker.

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