Talking about the Zika virus

Tox Doc Noreen Khan-Mayberry talks about the Zika virus and the dangers to pregnant women.


SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) — Health officials say they're trying to determine if an unusual jump in cases of the rare Guillain-Barre Syndrome is related to the spread of the mosquito-borne Zika virus in El Salvador.

Fears the illness might cause birth defects already has led authorities in the Central American nation to warn women against becoming pregnant.

The World Health Organization says Salvadoran authorities reported 46 cases of Guillain-Barre just from Dec. 1 to Jan. 6. The full-year average for the country is 169 cases.

The WHO says at least 12 patients experienced a rash-fever illness in the 15 days before developing Guillain-Barre. It's a nerve disease that causes muscular weakness and tingling and can cause temporary paralysis and sometimes death.

Experts in Brazil are also looking for a possible link.


CHARLOTTE AMALIE, U.S. Virgin Islands (AP) — The U.S. Virgin Islands is reporting its first case of the mosquito-borne Zika virus.

Authorities said Friday that the patient is a 42-year-old woman who lives on the island of St. Croix and has not traveled recently.

The U.S. territory's Health Department has been distributing free mosquito bite prevention kits.

Brazilian officials have linked the tropical illness to birth defects. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned that pregnant women should avoid traveling to 14 countries and territories in the Americas where the virus has been detected. Puerto Rico and Haiti have already reported Zika cases.

Zika symptoms are generally milder than those of dengue and chikungunya and can include a slight fever, headache and pain in the hands and feet.


SAO PAULO (AP) — President Dilma Rousseff says Brazil is trying to develop vaccine against the Zika and dengue viruses.

She says the Health Ministry is working with Brazilian and foreign laboratories to obtain a vaccine against dengue and the Zika viruses that are transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito.

Brazilian officials have linked the Zika virus has been linked to the large number of cases of microcephaly, a rare birth defect.

The Health Ministry has said the number of cases of microcephaly has risen to 3,893 since authorities began investigating the surge in cases in October.

Rousseff also called on Brazilians to redouble their efforts to eliminate the mosquito and its breeding grounds.

She made her remarks on Thursday during a highway inauguration ceremony in the northeastern state of Pernam


RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The suspected number of cases of microcephaly, a rare brain defect in babies, continues to rise in Brazil, reaching 3,893 since authorities began investigating the surge in October, Health Ministry officials said Wednesday.

Fewer than 150 cases of microcephaly were seen in the country in all of 2014. Brazil's health officials say they're convinced the jump is linked to a sudden outbreak of the Zika virus, a mosquito-borne disease similar to dengue, though the mechanics of how the virus might affect babies remain murky.

Infants with microcephaly have smaller than normal heads and their brains do not develop properly. Many fetuses with the condition are miscarried, and many others die during birth or shortly after. Those who survive tend to suffer from developmental and health problems.

The ministry's emergency response official, Wanderson Oliveira, said at a news conference in Brasilia on Wednesday that the reported cases are being investigated to determine whether they are really cases of microcephaly. He stressed that the situation is very much in flux and "will change every day."

Another official, Claudio Maierovitch, who heads the ministry's transmissible disease department, said officials are learning quickly about microcephaly and Zika, but much still remains unknown.

"With Zika, it's all new," he said, adding that Wednesday's announcement that the virus had been detected in the placenta of a woman who miscarried in the first trimester was one more piece of the puzzle. The announcement was made by the Fiocruz research institute's branch in the southern state of Parana.

Maierovitch said Brazil was working to ramp up its capacity to test for the Zika virus. Officials hope Brazilian labs will soon be able to process 20,000 Zika tests per month, compared with the current 1,000. Brazil has also invested in developing a vaccine against the illness, though Maierovitch said development would likely take three to five years.

HE said that the introduction of genetically modified sterile mosquitoes could be a potential tool in the fight against Zika, as well as diseases such as dengue and chikungunya that are also transmitted by the Aedis aegypti mosquito. Recent tests by a British biomedical company suggest their sterile mosquitoes succeeded in drastically reducing local mosquito populations. However, Maierovitch cautioned that such a solution is not yet ready to be used on a large scale.

For the moment, the best way to prevent transmission is by doing away with stagnant water where the insects breed, using repellent and wearing covering clothing, he said.

The reported cases of microcephaly remain concentrated in Brazil's poor northeastern region. However, the developed southeast where Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo are located is the second hardest-hit region.

In Sao Paulo, Army troops are being used to help health agents combat the proliferation of the Aedes aegypti mosquito. Teams made up of health agents and up to four soldiers each fanned out through the megacity's middle class Vila Madalena neighborhood on Wednesday checking for and removing areas of stagnant water.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week advised pregnant women to avoid traveling to Brazil and several other countries in the Americas where Zika outbreaks have occurred. The warning comes months ahead of the Aug. 5-21 Olympic Games, which Rio de Janeiro is hosting, and some tourism professionals have voiced concern that it could scare visitors away.


Associated Press writer Stan Lehman in Sao Paulo contributed to this report.

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