Monthly Archives: January 2017

Zika-1 Year Later

To cap off a year that saw the Zika virus spread throughout the United States, The Centers For Disease Control made a grand, much-needed gesture. The CDC, using money granted by Congress earlier this year, has pledged close to $200 million to help fight the virus throughout the U.S. and its territories.

The money—which actually totals to $184 million—comes at a time where as many as 75 nations and territories have shown evidence of Zika infections. Approximately one year ago, that number was as small as 23.

As both the number of worldwide infections—and the measures intended to prevent them—continues to spread, the question remains: where do we stand with Zika?

Globally, only one new nation has reported a Zika infection since September, but that doesn’t mean the burden of the disease has lessened in countries that were already struggling. Even though the World Health Organization officially ended the status of the virus— which can cause severe birth defects in the brains of children born to infected mothers—as a global health emergency back in November, many countries are in it for the long haul when it comes to dealing with Zika.

In Brazil, for example, there have been 1,749 cases of babies born with defects in their nervous system, a problem that is estimated to cost the country around >$4 million per child

In the United States, these efforts may be working, as there has only been one new Zika case reported in the past three weeks. Despite this, research is continuing to reveal new ways that the virus can endanger pregnancies, making the task of stopping its spread just as important now as it was five months ago.

The virus first appeared in the U.S. in July, when Zika began to spread through infected mosquitos in Miami. Since then, infections have been reported in all 48 continental U.S. states.

However, almost all of these cases—there are 4,618 in total—have occurred through travel, with only approximately 200 infections in Florida and only a handful of infections in Texas spreading locally. Still, Congress is responding aggressively, as the CDC’s funding was only a small part of a $1.1 billion spending bill signed into law by president Obama back in September. The money is meant to serve a number of purposes, including vaccine research, mosquito control and studies on the virus’ effects on babies.

Source: Paste Magazine

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Disease-Carrying Mosquitoes

January 14, 2017: Two New Disease-Carrying Mosquitoes Found In Florida

Two new tropical disease-transmitting mosquitoes have been found in the state of Florida for the first time, according to researchers from University of Florida.

Entomologist Nathan Burkett-Cadena did not expect to find the Aedeomyia squamipennis and Culex panocossa species in Homestead as well as in Florida City on a research trip back in October. It is a sign that Florida is now becoming more conducive to tropical mosquitoes, especially as they are found near the mainland.

Both species are believed to transmit viruses to humans and lay their eggs on weeds that float in canals and drainage waters, warned Burkett-Cadena in a Miami Herald report.

Mosquito-Weary South Florida

While native to Central and South America, the mosquitoes likely arrived via plants and spread across South Florida canals and ponds. They are expected to grow in numbers soon.

“This would speak to some broader environmental changes that have caused Florida to be more accessible and hospitable to tropical mosquitoes,” the scientist said, pointing to global warming as the likely culprit and saying nobody had the species’ arrival “on their radar.”

Apart from climate change, increased tourism and global trade have probably made Florida a good destination for the exotic species, Burkett-Cadena added.

It’s a particularly bad time for the discovery in South Florida, as a Zika virus outbreak hit Wynwood and Miami Beach over the summer and extending into fall. The outbreak, with over 1,200 local and travel cases documented statewide, is caused by the Aedes aegypti mosquito.

While dry, cool weather paired with aggressive control measures has helped contain the mosquito spread, the disease is expected to return by springtime.

Severe birth defects in different places have mounted a full-blown Zika crisis. The virus takes the form of microcephaly in babies and kids, a defect characterized by smaller-than-normal heads.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued numerous health and travel recommendations for people who are most prone to the virus and its dangers, particularly pregnant women. As of Nov. 18, the World Health Organization has lifted the Zika virus’ global health emergency status.

While no vaccine exists for the virus yet, researchers have identified seven key proteins within it that may have been instrumental in the extent of the outbreak’s damage.

The two new species also carry viruses and can easily conquer densely populated areas.

There are a number of differences between them, though: the Aedeomyia mosquito feeds mainly on birds, which transmit the West Nile, Eastern equine encephalitis, and other viruses, while the Culex panocossa is a confirmed vector for the Venezuelan equine encephalitis, which poses a deadly threat to kids and the elderly.

The latter also likely carries the local Everglades virus, which is typically detected in native Culex species. The virus is so far contained since the mosquitoes do not survive well outside the Everglades, but researchers are worried about the mosquito’s tropical kin starting to spread it.

The virus in its mild form can lead to flu-like symptoms and joint aches but can progress to encephalitis and occasionally trigger comas that have not so far led to mortalities.

With the recent discovery, the number of invasive mosquitoes found in Florida over the past decade has reached nine.

Source: Tech Times

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Protect Your Loved Ones In 2017

zika-and-pregnancyzika-virus

New study provides projections for Zika outbreaks in the Americas In 2017

Published on August 3, 2016 at 1:10 AM

With the report from Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Monday that 14 people in the state have been infected with the Zika virus most likely through mosquito transmission, the concern about out­breaks in the U.S. has intensified.

The news comes on the heels of new research by Northeastern pro­fessor Alessandro Vespig­nani that can help coun­tries in the Americas plan a response.

The new study, along with interactive maps, provides current numbers as well projections for the number of Zika cases in the Americas through January 2017. It also provides projections for the number of microcephaly cases associated with the disease through October 2017, a date chosen to allow for the nine months of preg­nancy. Microcephaly is a serious neurological birth defect characterized by a smaller than normal head.

The research is a collaboration overseen by the Center for Inference and Dynamics of Infectious Diseases, a Models of Infectious Disease Agent Study Center of Excellence funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Tackling Zika has been “a call to arms,” says Vespignani. “We’ve been working on the modeling around the clock since January,” adds Matteo Chinazzi a postdoctoral research associate in Vespignani’s laboratory for the Modeling of Bio­log­ical and SocioTechnical Systems, or MOBS, and a coauthor of the study.

The team of 14 researchers uses large- scale com­pu­ta­tional epi­demic models that inte­grate socio- demographic and travel data of target pop­u­la­tions along with sim­u­la­tions of infec­tion trans­mis­sion among mil­lions of indi­vid­uals to reconstruct disease spread in the past and project it into the future.

Under- reporting is rife in affected coun­tries because up to 80 percent of people with the dis­ease are asymptomatic, says Vespignani, Sternberg Distinguished Professor of Physics and director of the Network Science Institute at Northeastern. “Even of those with symp­toms, prob­ably only one- third will go to the doctor and get diag­nosed,” he says.

Indeed, the number of travel- associated cases of Zika in the U.S. reported by the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion may be just the tip of the ice­berg, according to the research.

The team, half of which is at North­eastern, projected that as of June 15 there were close to 30,000 cases of travel- related Zika in the U.S., a number 25 times greater than that reported by the CDC on the same date.

The discrepancy results from the difference between reported cases of the mosquito- borne virus–those actually diagnosed and reported to the CDC’s sur­veil­lance system–and those that fly under the radar but that the researchers’ modeling algorithms can project.

“We don’t project very large out­breaks in the continental U.S.,” says Vespig­nani, whose lab has been running the simulations of infection transmission–a job that requires using some 30,000 proces­sors at once. “But there is a cer­tain set of countries in the Americas that has the right mosquitoes, the right weather, and the right socioeconomic con­di­tions for major out­breaks.” Those con­di­tions include lack of air con­di­tioning, poor sanitation, and little access to education, for example, instruc­tion on preventative measures such as removal of standing water, which attracts mosquitoes.

Among those coun­tries are Brazil, with 15% of the pop­u­la­tion affected by the virus; Colombia, with 8%, and Puerto Rico with 10%. Puerto Rico is being par­tic­u­larly hard hit right now. “That’s because Puerto Rico is entering mos­quito season,” says Qian Zhang, a postdoctoral research asso­ciate in MOBS and a coau­thor of the study. “The weather conditions, including temperature and humidity, are now favor­able for the Zika spread.”

Still, the risk of con­tracting Zika as a result of the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro is extremely small, says Vespig­nani. That’s because the increase in air travel from Zika- affected areas will be minimal–less than 1 per­cent. The number of cases in Brazil, where the virus sur­faced between August 2013 and April 2014, reached its peak in the first half of 2015 and has been declining since, affecting close to 10 to 15 per­cent of the population.

“The number of people traveling with Zika all over the world has already been huge,” says Vespignani. “And Rio is not very much affected at the moment. So the half- million people who will travel there for the Games are just a small per­tur­ba­tion in the entire pic­ture of the virus’ spread.”

Projecting the spread of Zika has been much more dif­fi­cult than doing so for Ebola or the flu, says Vespig­nani, who has mapped both. That’s because the dis­ease is primarily transmitted not from person to person but from mosquitoes to people, most often the species Aedes aegypti but also Aedes albopictus,both of which carry the dengue and yellow fever viruses as well.

Thus data on human mobility, socio- demographics, and temperature changes–the bread and butter of epidemic modeling–must be com­pounded with data on the mosquitoes, much of which is uncer­tain, such as their travel pat­terns, abun­dance, and life­cycle depending on tempera­ure. “Unfortunately, mosquitoes do not have a GPS attached to them,” says Ana Pastore- Piontti, also a post­doc­toral research asso­ciate on the MOBS team who has also worked with Vespig­nani on past dis­ease threats such as the Ebola epidemic.

In addition, re­atively little is known about Zika itself, for example, pre­cisely when and where the virus arrived in Brazil, the length of the incu­ba­tion period in humans and mos­qui­toes, and whether humans can develop immunity to the virus.

Indeed, with no data available specifically on the relationship between Zika and its host mos­qui­toes, the researchers had to rely on the historical literature on other mosquito- borne dis­eases including dengue, malaria, and chikun­gunya. “But that means that we are making a lot of assump­tions that Zika is close to dengue, for example,” says Kaiyuan Sun, PhD’19. He and Dina Mistry, PhD’18, are also coau­thors of the Zika study.

Given all the uncertainties, the researchers cau­tion that their find­ings are “projections,” rather than “fore­casts.” “We use ‘fore­cast’ when we have a level of con­fi­dence in past data–such as the origin of the dis­ease and the pro­gres­sion of outbreaks–that allows us, even with some fluc­tu­a­tions, to project into the future,” says Vespig­nani. “With Zika we are saying, ‘These are the sce­narios based on a number of assump­tions and an attempt to get some plausible path for the future.'”

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