Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Unknowns of the Zika Virus

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My sister Sharon works in the field of health science and she sends me regular updates on issues that she thinks I might find of interest. As of late, my mailbox has been full of information from her about the Zika virus.

If you have not followed the story, you should. The New York Times has a very good primer on the disease here.

Some key points:

  1. The Zika virus was not found in this hemisphere until recently. It was mainly in Africa and Asia. People in our region do not have a natural viral immunity to the disease.
  2. It was not widely associated with microcephaly in newborns until recently. It is unclear if this is due to the lack of viral resistance in the hemisphere or some new aspect of the disease.
  3. There is no cure or vaccine for the disease.
  4. Many countries, particularly Brazil, have taken extraordinary measures to try to combat the disease. Some nations have urged women of child bearing years to avoid pregnancy until the issue is better understood. Brazil is urging pregnant woman to avoid traveling to Brazil during the summer olympics.
Right now, there is a great deal of attention being given to mosquito eradication via application of pesticides and genetic engineering to try to eliminate the vector. These approaches have significant environmental implications. The actions that are taken over the next year will have important implications on environmental and public health for the next decade.


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