Infected Mosquitos to Fight Zika

A new plan to fight the spread of Zika in Brazil was announced this week. The plan will take mosquitoes infected with the Wolbachia bacteria and release them into areas where Zika is present. Smaller test trials and recent studies using these infected mosquitoes in areas with Zika were successful and showed that Wolbachia infected mosquitoes were unable to transmit Zika virus.  

This innovative idea came from the Grand Challenges program that was started by the Gates Foundation. Each year, the program asks scientists to bid for funds with their creative and new ideas to solve some of the world’s most urgent health problems. In 2005, Professor O’Neill’s team from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia proposed infecting mosquitoes with the Wolbachia bacteria to help stop the dengue epidemic. The dengue virus belongs to the same family of viruses as Zika which makes it an excellent candidate for decreasing Zika carrying mosquito populations.

Following the success of small scale Wolbachia control method trails in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Latin America, both Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and Antioquia in Colombia will see Wolbachia mosquitoes released early next year. The infected mosquitoes are expected to breed with local mosquitoes and pass the bacteria to their offspring. The project is not only self-sustaining and proven to drastically eradicate Zika carrying mosquitoes but it is also affordable and can help stop the spread of other viruses as well such as yellow fever. Wolbachia bacteria itself is benign, completely safe and found in 25% to 70% of all insects. Hopes are high for this newly developed method to end the Zika epidemic once and for all!

The Science of Zika: New Insights

Zika is a relatively new virus. It was accidentally discovered in the Zika forest in Uganda. Scientists from the Yellow Fever Research Institute discovered the virus during a routine surveillance check for yellow fever. The name of the virus comes from the word “ziika” which means “overgrown” in Luganda. Zika is now found around the world and has been a growing concern since the outbreak in Brazil started to spread rapidly around South America in 2015.         
New research is shining a light on the virus’s evolutionary development leading to new insight on how the virus spreads.

The virus belongs to a long list of viruses in the genus known as flavivirus. The name originated from the word “flavus” which is Latin for yellow. Yellow fever was the first virus in this family that also includes West Nile, dengue, chikungunya and tick-borne encephalitis viruses.

A team of scientists from Rome, Italy, have created a model that shows Zika’s diversity and how the virus has evolved. The study of the Zika virus was led by Dr. Ciccozzi and Dr. Angeletti from the University Campus Bio-Medico. An evolutionary analysis of the virus showed two types of genotypes, African and Asiatic, and two separate clades. The first clade represents African gene sequences and the second clade represents sequences of Asiatic and Brazilian origin. The Brazilian sequences are closely related to a French Polynesian sequence, supporting the  hypothesis of how the Zika virus showed up in Brazil. During the Va’a World Sprint Canoeing Championship in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2014, a team from French Polynesia participated. This supports the hypothesis that Zika virus was introduced during this time and not during the World Cup where no teams from French Polynesia or other Pacific countries participated.

“Understanding the differences and similarities between Zika and other flaviviruses is essential if effective drugs, vaccines and Zika-specific immunological tests for large population screening are to be designed,” the authors of the study say. This new research will help to understand how the infection spreads and how the immune system reacts to the virus.

Congress To Provide $1.1 Billion For Zika Efforts

Back in February of this year, President Obama asked Congress for $1.9 billion for the fight against the spread the Zika virus in order to protect the health and safety of Americans. The request included ramping up surveillance efforts, controlling the mosquitos spreading Zika, accelerating research into new vaccines, as well as helping other countries already battling the virus. Even though Zika’s funding bills passed both the House and Senate in May of this year, they did not meet the President’s level of funding.

Zika virus time liine
Zika Virus Time Line

After months of back and forth, Congress finally agreed to allocate $1.1 billion to help fight against Zika. The delay of the funding was due to disagreements over funding being allocated to Planned Parenthood and whether the funding should be considered “emergency” spending. Since Zika virus can be sexually transmitted and can harm pregnant women, reproductive health and family planning needs to be included in the Zika response. The CDC has stated that the primary strategy in reducing Zika-related pregnancy complications is family planning. World Health Organization Director General said in a statement, “The response now requires a unique and integrated strategy that places support for women and girls of child-bearing age at its core.” Many felt that Congress was attacking women’s healthy by eliminating funding for family planning services which would affect over 4 million people in the Zika response bill.

The president of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said, “Immediate efforts to improve access to contraception and prevent pregnancy will help us avoid the long-term affects associated with the Zika virus.” Republicans finally agreed to set aside the extreme provisions that would have specifically blocked Planned Parenthood providers from receiving critical funding.

The new deal that has been approved in Congress will include $396 million for a Zika virus vaccine and better diagnostic testing, $394 million for the CDC for mosquito control and surveillance, as well as $66 million for the health care of people affected in Puerto Rico and other US territories. In total, the FY2016 Zika supplemental bit will provide $1.1 billion in emergency funding. Combined with the funds already reprogrammed by the Administration for Zika response activities, the total available resources to respond to Zika virus will now be $1.7 billion.



Zika Might Spread Through Bodily Fluids

A new possible and worrisome route of transmission for the Zika virus may be through contact with bodily fluids. The first person to die from Zika virus infection was an unidentified elderly man of Salt Lake City, Utah. The man caught the Zika virus while traveling abroad to a Zika infected area. He also suffered from another health condition when he died this past June. This particular case of Zika has been puzzling researchers since the virus mysteriously spread from the elderly man to his son.

Researchers are still trying to figure out exactly how the virus spread. The man’s son helped take care of his dying father in the hospital and hugged his father according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s report. The report also stated that the father had an extremely high level of the virus in his blood when he died. No other family members or health workers working with the Utah man have contracted the virus. Even though his son has recovered from the Zika infection, it is uncertain how he contacted the virus since he did not travel to any Zika affected areas or had sex with anyone who did according to the CDC report.

Currently, Zika virus has been found in blood, urine, semen, and saliva. Zika virus mostly spreads to people that have been bitten by an infected Aedes species mosquito. An infected mother can also spread Zika virus to her fetus during pregnancy. A person infected with Zika can also spread the virus to his or her sexual partners. Zika might be spread through blood transfusion as multiple reports of these cases in Brazil are being currently investigated. This new case of the Utah man’s son might prove to be a unique new way the virus can spread which may be through bodily fluids such as blood but also sweat or tears.

The Four Most Lethal Diseases Caused by Mosquitoes

Zika mosquito
Zika can be deadly

Although they are tiny, mosquitoes can be very pestilential creatures.  We are all cognizant of the dangers of the Zika virus and the issues they are having on our human population, but there here are additional mosquito-borne illnesses in addition to Zika. Some of them are more lethal than the others. Below is a list of the most lethal diseases that mosquitoes can carry?

Zika Virus

Primarily caused by Aedes mosquitoes, Zika virus is a disease first identified in 1947 in Uganda. A mild illness, Zika virus may cause viral fever. Furthermore, an infected person may suffer from headache, aches, and skin rashes. Unfortunately, there is no precautionary antidote for this disease so the only way you can protect yourself from Zika virus is staying clear of mosquito bites. Pregnant women and infants are most affected by this disease.

Dengue fever

Without a shadow of a doubt, dengue fever is one of the most lethal illnesses caused by mosquitoes. People living in tropical and subtropical climates are the ones most prone to this disease. Similar to the Zika virus, dengue fever is primarily caused by Aedes mosquitoes. By multiplying in our body’s cells, dengue mosquitoes cause rashes, joints pain, headache, and high fever. However, these conditions are just the initial symptoms of the disease. Dengue can also cause nausea, vomiting, bleeding and even death. Generally, infected people take acetaminophen to treat dengue fever. However, to date, there are no specific medications or treatments for this ailment.


Caused by female Anopheles, malaria occurs when a human is bit by a mosquito and Plasmodium vivax is transferred into the bloodstream. Malaria can travel from the bloodstream into the liver and disrupt the normal functioning of the liver. Malaria can also cause headaches, fever, sweating, severe-flu and chills. Although this illness has been virtually eliminated in the United States, it continues to haunt the people in Africa and South America.

West Nile

West Nile was first discovered in 1999. Caused by culex mosquitoes, West Nile primarily affects birds and animals. However, there are also cases of humans being affected by this disease. In fact, many human fatalities caused by West Nile have been reported to date. West Nile is a lethal disease, as it can damage brain tissues and cause coma, convulsions and even death.

Five Ways to Protect Yourself From the Zika Virus

Zika MosquitoAs the number of Zika virus infections continues to rise in the US, it is important to take the right steps in order to minimize your risk of contracting the disease.

Travel Smart

Pregnant women and women planning on becoming pregnant should avoid traveling to Zika affected areas. This includes Florida, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands. Outside of the US this also includes Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and most of South America.

Wear Mosquito Repellent

The Center for Disease Control recommends mosquito repellent products with the active ingredients DEET, oil of lemon eucalyptus, picaridin, or IR 3535. DEET is safe for pregnant women to use. Don’t forget to spray the feet and ankles as the Zika carrying mosquitos have a preference for these areas.

Wear Protective Clothing

Wear dark colored long sleeves and long pants including shoes with full coverage. You can get extra protection by wearing clothing that contains permethrina synthetic insecticide which is safe for pregnant women and children to use.

Remove Standing Water

Aedes mosquitoes that spread Zika feed during the morning into the afternoon and like to go inside houses for shade and reproduction. Any water located in your home could be a breeding ground for mosquitos. One tablespoon of water can serve as a breeding ground and produce up to 300 mosquitos. Be sure to get rid of any standing water in or around your home including in flower and plant pots, garbage, buckets, and any item that holds water.

Exercise Inside

Aedes mosquitoes are drawn to carbon dioxide, heat, and sweat. It’s best to switch your morning run into an indoor workout, especially in Zika affected areas and when it’s warm out. Blast the AC when you’re inside to keep those mosquitoes out.

Five Facts About the Zika Virus

 How does the virus spread?

The virus mainly spreads by the Ae. aegypti mosquito found in the tropical and sub-subtropical areas of the Americas. However, due to climate change, the mosquito species known as Ae. albopictus has been moving into North America as well, it’s been found as far north as the Great Lakes. This mosquito usually bites in the morning and late afternoon.

Which Areas are Affected?

The Zika virus is mostly found within the tropical equatorial belt. Historically, it has existed in parts of Central Africa, India, and Indonesia. The 2015-2016 outbreak has caused the most concern in Central America and northern regions of South America. Since the outbreak, Zika has been reported in Colombia, French Guiana, Mexico and Venezuela as well as many more South and Central American countries. Nations worldwide have strongly advised people to rethink any travel plans they’ve had for affected regions.

What is microcephaly?

Microcephaly is a neurodevelopmental disorder linked to the Zika virus, typically defined by the sufferer having a head circumference two or three standard deviations below the mean average for his or her age and gender. Microcephaly can cause abnormal growth of the brain and is especially dangerous for newborn babies. The condition often leads to severely impaired intellectual development and can cause problems with motor functions and speech development.

Who is in danger?

Pregnant women have been identified as particularly in danger of the virus. Some countries are already advising women to avoid becoming pregnant at all. In El Salvador, Jamaica, Colombia and Ecuador, women have been advised to delay conception until at least 2018. In the US, officials have specifically advised pregnant women to avoid travel to Zika affected countries.

How do you know if you’ve been infected?

Even though there is no specific test widely available to identify the Zika virus, the disease’s symptoms are similar to those experienced during Dengue or Yellow fever. If you’re at all suspicious that you have been infected with Zika, a blood or tissue sample must be sent to an advanced laboratory within the first week of infection. Initial symptoms are usually mild with only 1 in 5 people infected experiencing any notable difference including fever, rashes and joint pain.



Zika May Cause Brain Damage in Adults Too

Most of the concern surrounding the Zika virus has centered around pregnant women and the birth defects that develop in babies who were infected in the womb. However, adult brain cells are not completely safe.

In rare cases, it was known that Zika was linked to Guillain-Barré syndrome, which can result in paralysis and death. People experiencing Guillain-Barré tend to recover about 6 to 8 weeks after symptoms, such as tingling and muscle weakness that spreads throughout the body, begin. Now, new research has found evidence that adult brain cells critical to learning and member may be at risk, as well.

“Based on our findings, getting infected with Zika as an adult may not be as innocuous as people think,” Joseph Gleeson, MD, adjunct professor at Rockefeller, head of the Laboratory of Pediatric Brain Disease, Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, and co-author of the study, said in a statement.

A study published in Cell Stem Cell found that mice infected with the Zika virus showed neural progenitor cells were susceptible to the virus. Most adult neurons are resistant to the virus, but some replenish and are vital for learning and memory. The researchers found that the virus may have the same ability to infect adult neural progenitor cells as it does regarding fetal neural progenitor cells.

The results of the research, conducted only in mice, are only a first step, though. More research is needed to find the effect on an adult brain and to see if the mice model translates to humans. The researchers are also looking to find if the damage to adult brain cells can result in long-term damage.

“Zika can clearly enter the brain of adults and can wreak havoc,” Sujan Shresta, PhD, study co-author and a professor at the La Jolla Institute of Allergy and Immunology, said in a statement. “But it’s a complex disease—it’s catastrophic for early brain development, yet the majority of adults who are infected with Zika rarely show detectable symptoms. Its effect on the adult brain may be more subtle, and now we know what to look for.”

New Zika Warnings For Florida

Florida governor Rick Scott announced this past Friday, July 29th, that four cases of Zika cases in Florida came from local mosquitos. Three men and one woman have been infected with Zika virus all within a one-mile radius in Miami. This makes Florida the first state in the nation to have local transmission of the Zika virus, confirming health officials’ worst fears. The investigations in Miami identified significant numbers of mosquitoes that can spread Zika. Scott also said that everyone in the areas where Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are present, as well as pregnant women, should take steps to avoid mosquito bites.

Zika has been been rapidly spreading throughout the Caribbean and Latin America in the past few months affecting travel and tourism. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned pregnant women and women that are planning on becoming pregnant to avoid traveling to Zika affected areas including Puerto Rico. The CDC director Tom Frieden said on Friday that no warning has been currently issued for Miami. Frieden also stated that he is confident that Zika could follow the pattern of past mosquito-borne viruses such as West Nile, dengue fever, and chikungunya. Public Health England, however, has advised pregnant women to avoid non-essential trips to the state of Florida. Researchers are currently working on a vaccine for Zika and are also learning more about its long-term effects.

If you are currently in Miami there are steps you can take if you wish to avoid Zika and lower your risk of contracting the virus. If you are pregnant and living in Miami you can see your OBGYN for advice. At home and outside, be sure to wear insect repellent that contains DEET and wear long sleeved shirts and pants to minimize exposed skin. Make sure there are no cups, buckers, gutters, or containers of any kind that have gathered standing water, since Aedes aegypti mosquitos that most comm

Zika Vaccine On Its Way

Zika VaccineOn March 2nd in 2015, Brazil first notified the World Health Organization (WHO) with reports of an illness characterized by skin rash in its northeastern states. From February to April, about 7,000 cases of illness with skin rash were reported in these states. Since the cases were mild with no reported deaths, Zika was not a suspect of causing these illnesses. The cause was in fact Zika. It wasn’t until February of this year that WHO declared that Zika infection was associated with microcephaly and other neurological disorders. Since March of this year, researchers have been scrambling to develop a Zika vaccine to avoid the delayed response of a vaccine that occurred with the Ebola epidemic. Vaccine trials for Ebola began too late, as soon as the the rate of infection started to drop.

Agencies Involved in Vaccine

Since March, 18 agencies and companies around the world raced to develop Zika vaccines, including inactive vaccines that could be safely given to pregnant women. Alexander Precioso, the director of the clinical trials and pharmacovigilance division at Butantan Institute in Sao Paulo, Brazil said a “long term vaccine made from a weakened Zika virus might be the most effective because it mimics the natural course of infection more closely than other types.” The US National Institutes of Health are developing this type of DNA-based vaccine that would induce an immune response targeting both Zika and dengue.

Advancing the Virus Research

With no vaccine still in sight, the race is on. Just this past Monday, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) decided to expedite the process of developing a Zika vaccine and provided $1.1 billion in funding to combat the Zika virus. The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) that oversees development for vaccine research will provide $21 million over the next 30 months to the Center for innovation in Advanced Development Manufacturing (CIADM) that that will present a variety of studies to move rapidly through the early stages of vaccine development. After these studies are done, CIADM will submit a request to the Food & Drug Association to start clinical trials.

BARDA and HHS will give the task of manufacturing the vaccine to Emergent Biosolutions, a drug developer located in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Emergent expects to have a vaccine candidate ready by the end of this year for clinical trials. From there, Emergent will move production of the vaccine from its Gaithersburg facility to its bigger Baltimore manufacturing plant and start producing the vaccine for patients. Emergent is also known for manufacturing the anthrax vaccine and other cancer related drugs.