What is the Zika Virus?

Zika MosquitoThe Zika virus is a disease that spreads to people primarily through the sting of an infected
Aedes species mosquito. The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis. However, many people might not even know if they have been infected, as most people who contract the Zika virus won’t know they have the disease because they won’t have symptoms, according to the CDC. In addition, most people who have the virus, don’t get sick enough to go to the hospital, and they very rarely die of Zika.

Zika Symptoms

Transferring the Disease

Zika is mainly spread by mosquitoes, but there have been reported cases of the virus being spread through sexual intercourse. In addition, the Zika virus may be spread through blood transfusions.

Active Locations of the Virus

Currently, there are 39 countries and territories with reported active local transmission of the virus, including Puerto Rico. While there has yet to be any local transmission of the virus in the continental United States, experts expect that to change as the weather warms up.

The virus has been around for many decades, but suddenly, it is now increasing in the human population at an alarming rate. In May 2015, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) issued an alert regarding the first confirmed Zika virus infection in Brazil and on Feb 1, 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Zika virus a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC).

The following video illustrates the the sudden increase of the Zika virus

As Zika virus continues to spread worldwide, the urgent need for assistance in the countries affected grows. The International Atomic Energy Agency has recently announced a plan to help the 26 countries and territories reporting Zika virus infections.

Zike Virus World Map
The map above depicts the probability of occurrence (blue=none, red=highest occurrence).

Zika Risks to Humans

While the spread Zika virus is not on par with the deadly Ebola outbreak from 2014 that began in West Africa, the reason why Zika is causing such concern is because of the potential link to microcephaly. Women who are pregnant and develop a fever, rash, joint pain, or red eyes within 2 weeks of traveling to a country where Zika has been reported should see a doctor.

There has been a link between women infected with Zika and babies born with microcephaly, a birth defect that affects brain development, resulting in babies being born with much smaller heads than expected. Typically, microcephaly is not a common condition, and normally affects between 2 and 12 babies per 10,000.

Additional information can be found in Five Facts About the Zika Virus.

Donate Now! Help the children of the Zika virus!

World Cancer Day

World Cancer Day happens on February 4th. It is an international day to spread awareness of cancer and to help encourage the prevention of cancer. The day was founded by the Union for International Cancer Control. UICC is a non governmental organization that is membership based and was founded in 1933. Based in Geneva, Switzerland, the organization, which is a parent organization of World Health Organization, is striving to help the global health community accelerate the fight against cancer.

Part of UICC’s mission is to bring together the global cancer control community. A World Cancer Congress is held every two years for members and partners to learn, share, and discuss. A group of key meetings is also scheduled for Europe, Latin America and Asia with the Global Roundtable Series. A World Cancer Leaders’ Summit is also held every year dedicated exclusively to increasing global cancer control. Health leaders as well as leaders of international business take part. World Cancer Day is part of this mission in order to promote and raise awareness and education about cancer. This day helps unite the world and puts pressure on governments and people around the world to take action and do everything they can to increase research and funding towards curing cancer.

From 2016 until 2018, World Cancer Day’s tag line is “We Can. I Can.” The goal in these next two years is to explore how individuals as well as a collective of people can contribute to reduce the global burden of cancer. Cancer affects us all in different ways, and because of this we each have the power to take different actions in order to reduce the impact this terrible disease has on families and communities.

Support World Cancer Day

One way to help is to reduce the risk of cancer in oneself. It’s important to make healthy lifestyle choices and understand that early detection saves lives. This can help prevent an individual by decreasing their chances of cancer as well as inspire those around them to do the same. Challenging perception and creating healthy environments educates and benefits all. Improved access to cancer care is extremely important and along with shaping policy changes and mobilizing our networks to drive progress will definitely make a difference. It is also important to share your story which can help inspire others and give those that are experiencing similar concerns some support. We have to all make a case for investing in cancer control and research. Working together for increased impact is a goal of World Cancer Day. Together, we can reshape the future and develop a cure for each and every cancer affecting millions worldwide.

A “Moonshot,” Immunotherapy, and Progress on Cancer Treatment

On February 4, the world comes together in the fight against cancer with World Cancer Day, a global event aimed at savings millions by raising awareness and education of the disease, while pressing the government to take action.

In the United States, 2016 kicked off with President Obama announcing that during his last year in office, Vice President Joe Biden would be heading up the cancer “moonshot” initiative. The cause is personal for the vice president, who lost his son, Beau Biden, to brain cancer in May 2015.

In a memorandum, the president pointed out that while cancer is already a leading cause of death, cancer incidence is only expected to increase in the coming decades. The moonshot initiative aims to accelerate progress toward prevention, treatment, and, eventually, a cure for cancer.

Part of the initiative is that the FDA would speed approvals of promising drug combinations. Other ideas for the moonshot: immunotherapy and increased access to clinical trials.

Immunotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses the body’s natural defenses to fight the disease by targeting the immune system. Immuno-oncology drugs are promising and have generated impressive outcomes. The American Society of Clinical Oncology recently announced immunotherapy as the clinical cancer advance of the year.

Research in 2015 found that immunotherapies improve outcomes with reduced adverse effects for a number of cancers, including difficult-to-treat cancers and glioblastoma, the deadliest form of brain cancer.

This is not the first time the Obama administration has put the spotlight on cancer. Last year, during his State of the Union speech, the president announced his precision medicine initiative. Precision medicine is a type of customized healthcare that takes into account genes, environment and lifestyle.

Precision medicine has become important in treating cancer. Now when doctors attack the disease, they are often armed with knowledge about molecular and genetic makeup. The foundation of precision medicine is targeted therapy, which took off in the 1990s and is currently the focus of much cancer development.

Although there is still a long way to go before we find a cure for cancer, it is clear that the pace of cancer innovation has picked up speed and much progress has been made in the last decade.

January 27: International Holocaust Remembrance Day

On January 27, 1945, the Soviet army liberated the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Poland. The troops witnessed firsthand the brutality of the Third Reich. The ‘Final Solution, as the Nazis coined it, was their determination to exterminate the Jewish people because they were ‘not pure enough for their fictitious Aryan ‘master race.

Of course, the Nazis failed in their endeavors, but not before over 6,000,000 Jewish people and another 1,500,000 non-Jews were murdered either in one of the many concentration camps scattered across Europe, as well as outside of the camps by soldiers and roaming gangs in the European cities and towns. Indeed, it was in the earlier years of Nazism that thousands and later, millions were slaughtered in these towns before the concentration camps were fully operational.

One catalyst towards the state-sponsored onslaught of Jews was Kristallnacht (Crystal Night), a name given to reflect the shards of glass that had fallen from the mass destruction of Jewish-owned stores and synagogues in Germany. The pretext to commit these callous attacks was based on the assassination (November 9, 1938) of a Nazi diplomat by Herschel Grynszpan, a German-born Polish Jewish teenager. German police and soldiers stood aside while mobs of Germans, incited by Hitler’s state-sponsored propaganda machine, began their rampage throughout Germany.

Survivors and witnesses have accounted for the mass murder of Jews by German soldiers or groups loyal to the Nazis, who would take people from their homes and kill them without mercy. Women and children included. This slaughter is well documented in the areas of western Russia, where Jews were coldly shot in the fields that surrounded the small Russian towns.

One survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau was Miriam Blumenthal, an author and honoree from many distinguished U.S. and European organizations. She currently spends much of her time educating the world about tolerance and the lessons of the Holocaust. 

Additional information can be found at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which provides a large variety of information on the Holocaust and welcomes people to join in their membership for the continued fight against antisemitism.

January 27th is the date marked by the United Nations to commemorate victims of the Holocaust and we should all pause for a moment of silence to reflect on the millions of innocent lives lost during this dark period in history.


New Cancer Wonder Drug Approved in England

Those suffering from melanoma, an aggressive form of skin cancer, now have access to drug nivolumab. National Health Service in England, a publicly funded healthcare system providing free services, has approved the use of the new drug.

Nivolumab is a drug that is part of a new wave of immunotherapy treatments. These treatments work to target the body’s own immune system and attack tumors by blocking a negative regulator of T-cell activation. Nivolumab is twice as effective as chemotherapy and allows dying patients to live longer with much less side-effects. The drug is delivered by a drip IV with 73% higher survival rate in those on nivolumab versus those on chemotherapy with only a 42% survival rate.

Nivolumab is not yet approved for treating lung cancer in England since officials calculate the treatment would be less cost effective than it would be for skin cancer. In Europe, the Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use recommended approval of nivolumab for metastatic melanoma as a monotherapy. The Food and Drug Association here in the US has received approval for treatment of nivolumab for melanoma in December 2014 and in March 2015 it was also approved for the treatment of squamous non-small cell lung cancer.

Current clinical trials are also showing promise in the use of nivolumab for gastric cancer. These new immunotherapy treatments be the beginning of curing cancer by boosting the body’s natural defenses to fight cancer for good.

Raising Awareness of Cervical Cancer Screening

Cervical Cancer warning sign

All women are encouraged to have a Pap test during the month of January, which is Cervical Health Awareness Month. Every year more than 4,000 patients die with cervical cancer with a total of 13,000 diagnosed annually.

While cervical cancer is the second most common type of cancer for women, it develops over time and is one of the most preventable types of cancer. Human papillomavirus (HPV) is present in nearly all cervical cancers, but that does not mean having an HPV infection will result in cervical cancer. By age 50 more than 80% of women will have been infected with HPV, but the majority of women infected do not develop cancer.

Cervical cancer is a profound health equity issue that is linked strongly with poverty and lack of access to medical care. However, in the US the Affordable Care Act requires cervical cancer screening tests are provided at no cost to women. Improving access to screening and vaccines that already exist could eliminate the disease.

“The landscape constantly changes and so must we,” ASHA/NCCC President Lynn Barclay said in a statement. “When it comes to sexual and reproductive health, we should be comfortable in our own skin and have the confidence to seek the care and support we need. I urge every woman to talk with her healthcare provider about Pap and HPV tests.”

Cervical cancer starts in the cervix and approximately 80% to 90% are caused by uncontrolled growth of abnormal squamous cells.

Regular screening is important because early cancers of the cervix do not cause symptoms. There are possible symptoms of advanced disease: abnormal bleeding between menstrual periods, after sexual intercourse, after a pelvic exam, and after menopause; pelvic pain not related to menstruation; heavy or unusual discharge that may be watery, thick, and possibly have a foul odor; increased urinary frequency; and pain after urination.

Psychotherapy May Be Effective In Easing IBD Symptoms

According to the New York Times blog, ‘Well’, a review published online December 22, 2015 in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology ‘Short- and Long- Term Efficacy of Psychological Therapies for Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis’ suggests that psychotherapy may be “effective in easing the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome…even after therapy has ended.”

Irritable bowel syndrome can cause diarrhea, cramping, fever and sometimes rectal bleeding and Crohn’s Disease is part of this. The chronic ailment affects up to 11 percent of the population, and there is no cure or completely effective treatment.

After examining “data from 41 clinical trials that included 1,183 people assigned to psychotherapy and 1,107 controls,” investigators found that one year “after the end of treatment, 75 percent of the treatment group had greater symptom relief than the average member of the control group, although the benefits were modest.”

“I.B.S. is notoriously difficult to treat,” said the lead author, Kelsey T. Laird, a doctoral candidate at Vanderbilt University, “so the fact that these effects are just as strong six to 12 months later is very exciting — a significant effect, which did not decrease over time.”

Whether a given individual will benefit from psychotherapy is still unknown, Ms. Laird said. But, she added, “We do know that this seems to be one of the best treatments out there. So I would recommend it.”

Supporting Ms. Laird’s recommendation, the Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology report  said “Psychological therapies reduce GI symptoms in adults with IBS. These effects remained significant and medium in magnitude after short and long-term follow-up periods.”.

Port Washington News Helps Raise Awareness of Israel Children’s Cancer Foundation

It is not too late in 2015 to make a
tax-deductible donation to ICCF

Howard Fensterman and Israel Children's Cancer Foundation

The Port Washington News presented an article on the recent charitable event at the Port Washington Chabad for the Israel Children’s Cancer Foundation.

ICCF assists all of the children in Israel who are suffering from the distressing mental and physical consequences of cancer. It has been reported that one in 300 children living in Israel will be diagnosed in 2016 with the disease.

The mission of the ICCF is to enhance the level of care for cancer-stricken children. Eighty-seven cents of every dollar raised goes toward the funding of treatment in six major pediatric centers in Israel.

The Port Washington Chabad Sisterhood coordinated the event. The Sisterhood invites all Jewish women, whether members or not, to participate in events and learning. Together, it is their mission to introduce Jewish values into the homes of those in the community.

Progress Made in Diabetes, But Dangers Still Exist for Seniors

Old WomanDiabetes has been an increasing issue in the United States. While there are already close to 30 million Americans with diabetes, there are far more who have what is being called prediabetes.

As of 2012, 86 million Americans aged 20 years and older had prediabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prediabetes is a condition where an individual has a blood sugar level that is higher than normal but not yet high enough to be classified as type 2 diabetes. Without intervention, prediabetes often turns into full-blown diabetes within a decade.

However, despite the dire picture the prevalence of diabetes and prediabetes in the US paints, the CDC also had some good news. The number of new cases of diabetes is actually decreasing. In 2009, the CDC reported 1.7 million new cases of diabetes, but in 2014, there were only 1.4 million new cases.

Overall, while progress is being made, diabetes remains an epidemic and there is a long way to go in the US before success can be claimed.

Among senior citizens, the prevalence of diabetes is higher than the general population, and a new study from January 2015 found that older diabetics are being overtreated for their disease.

The study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, found that nearly two-thirds of patients with diabetes aged 65 years and older received aggressive treatment for their disease regardless of their health status and blood sugar levels. This sort of aggressive treatment in seniors could result in hypoglycemia, which leads to confusion, coma, and even death.

“We treat diabetes to prevent complications of the disease by lowering blood sugar levels, but the problem with aggressively lowering blood sugars — to a hemoglobin A1c below 7% — in older people is that it is uncertain whether this approach will result in a benefit, and it could, in fact, cause greater harm,” lead author Kasia Lipska, MD, MHS, assistant professor of internal medicine at Yale School of Medicine, said in a statement. “Our study suggests that we have a one-size-fits-all approach despite questionable benefits and known risks.”

Breast Cancer Awareness – How to Detect BRCA1 and BRCA2 Gene Mutations

Every October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. One of the leading causes of breast cancer is a genetic mutation in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 human genes. These genes create tumor suppressor proteins that help fix damaged DNA. When either one of these genes is altered or mutated, damage in DNA cannot be properly fixed. This can lead cells to develop additional genetic problems that can lead to cancer.

Sailors aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) form a pink ribbon logo on the flight deck to show support for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Adam M. Bennett/Released)

Inherited BRCA1 and BRCA2 ((BReast CAncer genes 1 and 2) mutations drastically increase the risk of female breast as well as ovarian cancer and possibly other cancers such as pancreatic cancer. Angelina Jolie, the famous actress, shed light on cancer and genetic mutation that affects millions of women. Jolie spoke out about her mother’s death from ovarian cancer and her own discovery of carrying the BRCA1 mutation. This led Jolie to the decision to have a preventative double mastectomy. This preventative treatment is the most important step in preventing breast cancer in women carrying the mutation.

Only about 12% of women in the general population will develop breast cancer. However, about 65% of women in the general population carrying the BRCA1 mutation will develop breast cancer as will 45% of women with the BRCA2 mutation in their lifetime.

But What are BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations?

We all have genes in our bodies, that we inherit from our parents. If a gene changes abnormally, it becomes a mutation and these mutations can be detected by your medical professional. More specifically, the BRCA1 and BRCA2 are mutations that are the building blocks, if you will, for cancer. They are the most popular mutations that are linked to breast cancer risk.

It is important to know that a child has a 50% chance of getting the mutation from either parent as both men and women can carry the mutation. Men with the BRCA2 mutation have an increased risk of breast cancer as well as prostate cancer. Anyone with a history of breast, ovarian, or prostate cancer in their family is encouraged to consider genetic counseling at the age of 25. The Affordable Care Act in the US considers genetic counseling as well as BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutation testing in those at high risk to be a covered preventive service.

Most common cancers - female, by occurrence

Those with the mutation can easily manage their risk by yearly screening as well as prophylactic (risk-reducing) procedures and chemoprevention. Enhanced screening increases the chance of detecting breast cancer in its early stages.

Women with the mutation are also at high risk for ovarian cancer. Unfortunately, no effective ovarian cancer screening methods currently exist. Since there is no way to detect early-stage ovarian tumors, many doctors are urging women to undergo prophylactic surgery to remove the ovaries after a woman is finished having children. This reduces the chance of a woman dying from ovarian cancer by about 80%.

Hopefully, within the next few years, medical technology will find ways to better detect, treat, and prevent ovarian as well as breast cancer in those carrying the mutations, but it can’t be emphasized enough. Get tested as often as your doctor recommends and take all the necessary precautions to help you avoid this deliberating disease.