July 2016 Update on Zika Virus

July 5th, 2016

by by Jie Liu, CHHS Extern

In the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Zika Situation Report on June 16, the Emergency Committee concluded that “there is a very low risk of further international spread of Zika virus as a result of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.” However, just recently, the Number 1-slated Olympic hopeful golfer, Jason Day, has announced he won’t participate in the Olympics out of concern for the Zika Virus. He joins a number of athletes who have chosen not to attend the 2016 Olympics.

As the world continues to watch the Olympics’ approach and Zika’s effect on it, here are some updates on the virus and surrounding issues:

Cases in the United States

In the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is still no locally-acquired mosquito-borne case. This means Zika has not been spread by mosquitoes in the continental United States.  Seven hundred and fifty five travel-associated cases have been reported, and one laboratory acquired case has been reported in the United States. This makes a total of 756 Zika virus cases in the United States; US territories (such as Puerto Rico) have currently 1436 locally-acquired cases and four travel-associated cases reported.

As of June 16, the CDC also estimated 265 pregnant women may have the Zika virus in the United States.

In Maryland, all 25 reported cases are travel-associated cases. Since late May, Maryland’s Department of Agriculture (MDA) has been spraying parts of the state to terminate mosquitoes. If there is a high risk of Zika virus transmission due to mosquito activity or a human case of Zika, MDA will spray for adult mosquitoes within 24 to 48 hours in a target area to kill any adult mosquitoes that may carry the virus.

In order to determine if spraying is necessary, MDA uses landing rate counts to measure the level of adult mosquito activity. To do this, an inspector serves as “bait” to attract mosquitoes which attempt to blood feed. Then the inspector will count the number of mosquitoes landing on the readily visible portions of the inspectors’ bodies, below the waist, during a two-minute interval. If the count exceeds three mosquitos, then a ground spraying is required; if the count exceeds 12, then aerial spraying is required. Residents may call 410-841-5870 for more information about this program.

Funding for U.S. Preparedness

As states continue to prepare for Zika, they face a serious concern: the shortage of funds. In February, President Obama asked Congress to provide $1.9 billion to states to fight the Zika virus. In May, the Senate passed a compromise bill which provides $1.1 billion in funding. On June 23, the House passed a similar bill with $1.1 billion in funding but it came with conditions. The Senate democrats blocked the $1.1 billion bill on June 28. This means no new funding will be approved by Congress to fight the Zika virus until Congress returns from its Fourth of July recess.

 Zika Virus and Pregnant Women

Another public concern of the Zika virus is how it affects pregnant women, who get the Zika virus primarily through the bite of an infected mosquito. There is concrete evident the Zika virus can cause microcephaly and other fetal brain defects.

However, there are many questions that we do not have answers to. For example, we don’t know how likely a pregnant woman is to get Zika, how the virus will affect her or her pregnancy, how likely it is that Zika will pass to her fetus, when in pregnancy the infection might cause harm to the fetus, and if sexual transmission of the Zika virus poses a different risk of birth defects than mosquito-borne transmission.

The CDC offers advice on how pregnant women can protect themselves: See here for pregnant women who DON’T live an area with Zika; see here for pregnant women who DO live an area with Zika.

Testing and Vaccine Development

There is currently no approved vaccine for the Zika virus. According to a WHO representative, however, 20 companies have been racing to develop a vaccine, and several show promise. On June 28, a U.S.-Brazilian team of scientists reported, in the journal Nature, that they have successfully injected two distinct vaccines into mice and those mice gained near-total immunity to Zika for at least two months. The team stated they will be ready to test the vaccine on humans by the end of the year.

Diagnosing Zika is likely to get easier as well: on June 29, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania revealed a portable diagnostic test for the Zika virus infection. The test can detect the Zika virus in saliva sample by amplifying viral RNA in a chemically heated cup and detection via a color-changing dye. The test takes only 40 minutes and costs about $2.

Zika and the Olympics

One global concern about the Zika virus is the risk for athletes and visitors getting infected while they are attending the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro 2016 (5 August to 18 September 2016). On May 27, more than 100 health experts around the world posted a letter urging WHO Director-General Margaret Chan to exert pressure on Olympic authorities to move the Olympics from Rio de Janeiro or delay the Games because of public health concerns over the Zika virus. In WHO’s Zika Situation Report on June 16, the Emergency Committee concluded that “there is a very low risk of further international spread of Zika virus” because of the Olympics, as “Brazil will be hosting the Games during the Brazilian winter when the intensity of autochthonous transmission of arboviruses, such dengue and Zika viruses, will be minimal . . . .” Additionally, WHO noted that Brazil’s intensified “vector-control measures in and around the venues for the Games which should further reduce the risk of transmission.” So, the Olympic and Paralympic Games are expected to be held on time.

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