Where the mosquito-borne Zika virus is spreading
THE mosquito-borne Zika virus, which is suspected of causing brain damage to babies in Brazil, is likely to spread to all countries in the Americas except for Canada and Chile, the World Health Organisation has warned. And now the Department of Foreign Affairs is urging pregnant women to reconsider trips to countries affected by the virus as Australian authorities expand their list of places of concern. DFAT has released an updated list of 22 countries where the Zika virus is transmitted, including nations in the Caribbean, Central America, South America, Africa and the Pacific Islands. In new official advice on the virus, which has been linked to a neurological disorder where infants are born with smaller heads, DFAT advises pregnant woman to “consider postponing travel to any area where Zika virus transmission is ongoing”.“Recent outbreaks in Central and South America, particularly Brazil, have raised concerns that infection with Zika virus in pregnant women might cause certain birth defects,” DFAT says on its Smartraveller website.It warns travellers to take measures to prevent being bitten by mosquitoes and also advises people to be aware of transmission in nearby countries. “Areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing are difficult to determine and likely to change over time,” it says. Previously, DFAT had references to Zika in advisories for five countries — Brazil, Paraguay, the Solomon Islands, New Caledonia and the Cook Islands. The updated list of 22 countries of concern no longer includes the Solomon Islands, New Caledonia and the Cook Islands. The spread of the virusZika has not yet been reported in the continental US, although a woman who fell ill with Zika in Brazil later gave birth to a brain-damaged baby in Hawaii. Brazil’s Health Ministry in November confirmed the Zika virus was linked to a foetal deformation known as microcephaly, in which infants are born with smaller-than-usual brains. Brazil has reported 3893 suspected cases of microcephaly, the WHO said last Friday, over 30 times more than had been reported in any year since 2010. The disease’s rapid spread, to 21 countries and territories of the region since May 2015, is due to a lack of immunity among the population and the prevalence of the Aedes aegypti mosquito that carries the virus, the WHO said in a statement. Evidence about other transmission routes is limited. “Zika has been isolated in human semen, and one case of possible person-to-person sexual transmission has been described. However, more evidence is needed to confirm whether sexual contact is a means of Zika transmission,” it said. There is currently no evidence of Zika being transmitted to babies through breast milk, the WHO said. It advised pregnant women planning to travel to areas where Zika is circulating to consult a healthcare provider before travelling and on return. Zika has historically occurred in parts of Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. But it is normally a mild disease and there is little scientific data on it, so it is unclear why it might be causing microcephaly in Brazil, the WHO has said. WHO director-general Margaret Chan told the WHO executive board that she had asked Carissa Etienne, head of the WHO in the Americas, to brief the board later this week on the WHO’s response to the outbreak. “Although a causal link between Zika infection in pregnancy and microcephaly has not, and I must emphasise, has not been established, the circumstantial evidence is suggestive and extremely worrisome,” Chan said. “An increased occurrence of neurological symptoms, noted in some countries coincident with arrival of the virus, adds to the concern.” Rio moves to control Zika before OlympicsAuthorities in Brazil say they have launched a campaign to protect athletes and visitors from the Zika virus during the Olympics. More than 56,000 bars and restaurants throughout the country have been sent a catalogue of measures that can be used to fight the Aedes mosquito, which carries the virus. In addition, prevention and diagnostic measures have been strengthened in the South American country. The amount of money to be spent on fighting the disease has been increased, and more than 550 tons of mosquito repellent is to be made available. It could prove advantageous that the Olympics are scheduled to take place during the winter in Brazil, meaning fewer mosquitoes and a lower risk of the virus spreading. There has not been a single case in Rio de Janeiro, where the games will open on August 5. To combat the mosquito, which also can transmit the viruses that cause dengue fever and chikungunya, 3000 troops will be deployed. In addition 266,000 employees of local health authorities will increase efforts to contain the virus, which has been the subject of hardly any research. Could Australia be at risk?The likelihood of an Australian outbreak of the Zika virus is “small but real”, James Cook University tropical disease expert Scott Ritchie has warned. “The fact that we get dengue outbreaks means that this movement of mosquito-borne viruses does happen. So it’s a real thing,” Professor Ritchie told AAP. “Somebody would travel to say Brazil, get Zika virus there and come back to Cairns, or a South American traveller who’s visiting Australia is infected with Zika virus. “If they’re bitten by the mosquitoes over here, the mosquitoes get infected and can potentially transmit the virus.” Race to treat the virus Pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline is concluding feasibility studies evaluating whether its vaccine technology is suitable for the virus. There is no vaccine or treatment for Zika, which typically causes mild fevers and rashes, although about 80 per cent of those infected show no symptoms. “We’re concluding our feasibility studies as quickly as we can to see if our vaccine technology platforms might be suitable for working on Zika,” Glaxo spokeswoman Anna Padula said in an email to Reuters.
She declined to provide details but added that vaccine development typically takes 10 to 15 years.
France’s Sanofi SA, which won approval late last year for the first dengue vaccine, has said it is reviewing the possibility of applying its technology for Zika.
“However, there are too many unknowns about Zika to reliably judge the ability to research and develop a vaccine effectively,” a spokesman said in an email in early January.
Japan’s Takeda Pharmaceutical said last week it was entirely focused on addressing dengue, and that its experimental vaccine was not designed to cover Zika.
A spokeswoman for Merck, which will likely be one of the first makers of an Ebola vaccine, said the company was not currently engaged in research to prevent or treat the Zika virus.
“But we are watching closely and connecting with partners to see how our knowledge and capabilities might be useful in helping to accelerate progress on this front,” she said.
Pubished by: News.com.au 26/01/2016