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Start of summer sparking new Zika concerns

Start of summer sparking new Zika concerns

New strain identified in Asia

Last summer, American public health experts were deeply concerned about the rapid spread of the Zika virus, which has now been proven to cause birth defects and other health problems in infants. The United States reported over 5,000 cases of Zika and thousands more in American territories.

How bad will it be this year? Over 600 cases have already been reported and more are expected.

It’s unclear how many cases of Zika will be expected in and outside the U.S. this summer, though experts say it could be lower than last year. “Based on historical evidence, we would expect that outbreaks this year throughout the Western Hemisphere are going to be less than they were the year before,” says [Dr. Lyle Petersen, director of the division of vector-borne diseases at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)]. “It’s not going away, but since a lot of people have already been infected and are no longer susceptible to infection, it will lower the number of cases over time.”

So far in 2017, about 650 Americans have gotten Zika, though that it is considered an underestimate. Most people do not experience symptoms and will not know they have the virus.

I recently attended a talk about the Zika risks in San Diego County, which was extremely interesting. The CDC recently reported that the types of mosquito that carry Zika, Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, are appearing in more counties in the southern U.S. where they haven’t been before. The main carrier, Aedes aegypti, has a very limited range of flight (approximately 500 feet from its point of birth), and is readily adapted to cohabitate with humans.

The key safety points made, in terms of living in areas where these mosquitos exist, is to minimize the availability of standing water. This include assessing the types of tropical plants placed with a garden area, as many species have small niches in which water can collect.

One disturbing development related to Zika is that the Asian strain has mutated to make it more infectious to the insects.

In a cause for concern, the Asian strain of zika virus has mutated, the scientists have confirmed. It’s only last month that the World Health Organisation (WHO) had confirmed the presence of zika virus in India. Virus mutation has come as a major challenge to health planners and scientists, who are involved in zika research.

…Quoting research on zika virus in China, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the USA in its recent report says a mutation has occurred in the Asian-lineage zika strain. At present, this mutation has made it more infectious to mosquitos. It is not clear whether the mutation will also cause more infection in the human host.

Intriguing new research in Great Britain is determining if the impact of Zika virus on brain stem cells can be redirected combat brain cancer.

Dr Harry Bulstrode at the University of Cambridge has received a Cancer Research UK Pioneer Award* to test the effect of the Zika virus on glioblastoma, the most common and aggressive form of brain tumour.

…Existing treatments are limited by their ability to cross the blood-brain barrier**, and doses must be kept low to avoid damage to healthy tissue. The Zika virus can cross the blood-brain barrier, and could target cancer cells, sparing normal adult brain tissue and opening a potential new way to attack the disease.

Hopefully, the research will lead to both a vaccine as well as new cures for other diseases.


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