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Zika

Back in 2015, Brazil reported a horrific a surge in birth defects. Thousands of babies were born with brain damage and abnormally small heads, a condition called microcephaly.

Scientists quickly concluded the Zika virus was the culprit. So when Zika returned last year during Brazil's summer months of December, January and February — when mosquitoes are most active — health officials expected another surge in microcephaly cases.

But that never happened.

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.

Public health authorities and infectious disease specialists now say we may not be able to rid the U.S. of the Zika virus. Despite months of intense work — including house to house inspections and aggressive mosquito control — federal, state and local officials have not been able to stop the spread of Zika in Miami.

Adult Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which can carry the Zika virus.
Flickr Photo/NIAID (CC BY 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/GhRvGn

Testing blood donations for the Zika virus doesn’t make sense for places like Seattle.

That’s what Dr. James AuBuchon, president and chief executive of Bloodworks Northwest, told KUOW’s Kim Malcolm.


U.S. range of the mosquitoes that can spread Zika and other diseases
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

It’s a low-tech approach to fighting the Zika virus: a mosquito trap made of a bucket, screens and a glue strip. The black, five-gallon trap uses water and the smell of hay to lure mosquitoes.

The technology comes from a firm in Woodinville, and researchers there say it works.


In Puerto Rico the local association of obstetricians and gynecologists has launched a new attack on Zika. Because Zika primarily is a problem for pregnant women, the doctors are trying to reduce the number of pregnant women by offering free contraception across the island to any woman who wants it.

"We have had ... historical barriers to contraception in Puerto Rico for a long long time," says Dr. Nabal Bracero, the driving force behind the initiative and the head of the local chapter of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

A bunch of world-class golfers and some men's U.S. basketball team nominees have announced they'll skip the Rio Olympics. Concerns about contracting the Zika virus are the most common excuse. By contrast, American track and field athletes seem eager to make the U.S. team for Brazil.

When Zika started spreading through Latin America earlier this year, a number of governments issued advisories recommending that women put off getting pregnant because the virus can cause severe birth defects. At the same time these countries kept in place strict laws that would prevent a woman from getting an abortion if she were already pregnant.

By now we know that Zika is dangerous for pregnant women and their future babies. The virus can cause devastating birth defects.

But what about for infections after babies are born? Or in older children? Is Zika a danger for them?

So far, all the evidence suggests probably not. But there are a few caveats.

Let's start with what we know.

Adult Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which can carry the Zika virus.
Flickr Photo/NIAID (CC BY 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/GhRvGn

Bill Radke talks with Dr. David Fleming of Seattle-based global health organization PATH about the public health response to the Zika virus.

A few months ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a startling map that showed the parts of the U.S. that could harbor mosquitoes capable of carrying Zika.

Many readers, including myself, thought, "Zika could come to my town! It could come to Connecticut! To Ohio and Indiana! Or to Northern California! Oh goodness!"

The map made it look like a vast swath of the country was at risk for Zika, including New England and the Upper Midwest.

Well, not quite.

There's a heated battle going on about the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Nearly 200 scientists signed a letter to the World Health Organization last week, calling for the games to be moved because of the ongoing epidemic of Zika in Brazil.

But many health officials — including those at WHO — say having the games in Rio doesn't pose a big enough threat to warrant moving them.

So who's right?

Texas is gearing up for Zika. Last week, state Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, asked state health officials to come up with “a clear and concise plan” for dealing with a possible outbreak.

Even though leaders are on high alert, experts warn there are some underlying health care access issues in Texas that could make dealing with Zika difficult.


Over 150 pregnant women in the United States appear to have been infected with Zika virus. That's in addition to more than 120 women affected by Zika in U.S. territories, mainly Puerto Rico.

Those are the latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, which has been keeping track of all pregnant women in the U.S. and its territories who have lab tests suggestive of Zika virus infections.

Zika's arrival in the U.S. this summer seems almost inevitable, health officials keep saying.

The virus has already touched down in northern Mexico and Puerto Rico. And just this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the number of states with virus-carrying mosquitoes was larger than previously thought.

So the looming question is: Once Zika is here, how big will the outbreak be?

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

There's now evidence that the Zika virus was spreading through South America long before health officials detected it last year. The finding suggests Zika could be hiding out in other corners of the world. NPR's Michaeleen Doucleff reports.

How Best To Test For Zika Virus?

Mar 10, 2016

Let's say you're a pregnant woman who recently traveled to Latin America or the Caribbean. You got a little sick shortly after the trip, with some combination of mild fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis. The big question now is: Did you have Zika virus? And, if so, is your fetus still healthy?

"Probably every day, patients come in questioning whether or not they would qualify for testing," says Dr. Christine Curry, an obstetrician-gynecologist at the University of Miami, and Jackson Memorial Hospital.

Anyone can follow the pregnancy of a monkey infected with Zika virus in real time, thanks to an experiment in data sharing that's unusual for biology.

Republican representatives continue to question the need for about $2 billion in emergency funding requested by the Obama administration to respond to the Zika virus.

Congressmen including Dr. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, asked in a hearing of an Energy and Commerce subcommittee Wednesday whether funds earmarked for combating the Ebola virus couldn't be transferred to the fight against Zika virus.

Every morning since I arrived in Brazil to cover the Zika outbreak, the first thing I do is douse myself with insect repellent before venturing outside.

I know the chances I'll catch Zika are pretty low, and the disease tends to be relatively mild for most healthy adult males. But with all the alarm about the virus, it's hard not to start to get a little paranoid about catching Zika from a mosquito.

One of the best ways to understand Zika virus might be to deliberately inject it into volunteers.

That idea may sound a little crazy, but it's not unprecedented. And some researchers are hoping the approach could help speed up the search for an effective Zika vaccine.

Right now, a bunch of labs are pursuing different ways of making a vaccine against Zika, mostly because of the concern that the virus might be linked to the birth defect called microcephaly.

It's the first thing in the morning at a crowded public health clinic in Joao Pessoa, Brazil, when a team of disease detectives from the United States and Brazil arrive.

They are searching for new mothers in the hope of solving one of the world's most urgent public health mysteries: Is the Zika virus really causing microcephaly, a birth defect that leaves babies with shrunken heads and badly damaged brains?

These mosquitoes could be a weapon against Zika

Feb 22, 2016

There’s a room at the University of São Paulo with between 10,000 and 15,000 mosquitoes in it. If you’re very quiet, you can hear them buzzing.

This is where mosquito researcher Margareth Capurro is trying to figure out the best strategy to reduce the type of mosquito, Aedes aegypyti, that carries Zika and other dangerous viruses. The bugs live in plastic containers and screen cages behind a double-doored vestibule, doors built to trap them if they escape from their containers.

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Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters

The Zika virus isn't the only thing that seems to be spreading quickly in Brazil. Rumors about the surge in microcephaly cases are, too.

Zika is a window into a much bigger story in Brazil

Feb 15, 2016
Z
Anne Bailey

As the country where doctors first noticed a suspected link between the Zika virus and serious birth defects, Brazil is the epicenter of the Zika-related global health emergency.

But Zika is only part of a much bigger story in Brazil. It's a story about mosquitoes, public health, water and women, which is why PRI'sThe World has sent its Across Womens' Lives team to Brazil for the next two weeks. They’re there to report on how Zika fits into the story of Brazilian women’s struggles to improve their lives in a time of rapid and often disturbing environmental change.

Don't get pregnant.

That's the advice given to women by the governments of Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and El Salvador in light of a possible link between the Zika virus, which is spreading in those countries, and a birth defect called microcephaly, which results in an abnormally small head and possible brain damage. Brazil has reported thousands of cases of microcephaly since the outbreak began there last spring; researchers are trying to determine whether the virus is the cause.

When Carolyn Coyne's lab at the University of Pittsburgh recently tried to order a sample of Zika virus from a major laboratory supplier, they were told it was out of stock.

"They are actually back-ordered until July for the virus," Coyne says. "At least that's what we were told." She ended up obtaining Zika from another source, and it arrived at her lab Tuesday.

U.S. health experts cautioned Friday that the apparent discovery of the Zika virus in saliva and urine from people in Brazil does not necessarily mean the virus can be spread by more casual contact with infected people, such as through kissing.

"I think we need to be careful that don't we jump to any conclusions about transmissibility," Anthony Fauci, who leads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said during an interview on NPR's Morning Edition.

Florida is one of several U.S. states now reporting a few isolated cases of people infected with the Zika virus. In response, Florida's Gov. Rick Scott has declared a public health emergency in five counties in hopes of getting ahead of the virus's spread.

So far, just 12 cases of the mosquito-borne illness have been reported to health authorities in Florida, all of them among travelers who contracted the disease outside the U.S. But Scott figures it's only a matter of time before the virus starts showing up among mosquitoes in some regions of the state, too.

"If you are a woman who is pregnant living in the U.S., there's one really important thing you need to know: You shouldn't go to a place that has Zika spreading."

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