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Science Policy Around the Web – August 23, 2016

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By: Agila Somasundaram, PhD

Aedes aegypti, by James Gathany (PHIL, CDC) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Zika

How big, really, is the Zika outbreak in Florida?

On Friday, officials announced that the Zika virus had spread to a second area in Florida, the Miami Beach, a popular tourist destination. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has advised pregnant women to avoid those areas, and in fact, advised pregnant couples concerned about exposure to Zika to “consider postponing nonessential travel to all parts of Miami-Dade county”. Officials note that it will be difficult to limit the spread of the virus in this area because aerial spraying may not work very well around high-rise buildings, and convincing beach-goers to wear long sleeves and pants might be hard. With schools starting today, school officials have distributed mosquito repellant cans to parents, and long-sleeved shirts and pants to students. 37 cases of Zika infection have been reported in the two areas in Miami.

Many scientists are concerned that the outbreak may be larger and more widespread than these numbers. Alessandro Vespignani, a computer scientist at Northeastern University in Boston, who is modeling the spread of Zika, says, “Zika is one of those diseases that is always like an iceberg — you just see the tip.” 4 in 5 people who get the virus don’t have any symptoms, and people who get sick exhibit mild symptoms that could easily be confused with the flu. So only 5 percent of cases get detected, says Vespignani. Models predict that 395 people will be infected with the virus by September 15, in Florida. Only about 80 of them will show symptoms, and about 8 pregnant women are likely to get infected during their first trimester, putting their fetuses at risk for microcephaly, says Ira Longini, a biostatistician at the University of Florid and a collaborator of Vespignani. Zika will likely continue to spread until October or November when the weather becomes cooler. The computer models also predict that Texas might be next. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says, “I would not be surprised if we see cases in Texas and Louisiana”, given the recent flooding in Louisiana. Zika virus-carrying mosquitoes breed in stagnant puddles, and there will be a lot of problem getting rid of standing water in flooded areas, says Fauci. (Michaeleen Doucleff, NPR)

Global Health

Debate continues over U.N. role in bringing cholera to Haiti

The 2010 Haiti earthquake claimed over 200,000 lives and injured many more. The cholera outbreak that followed months later resulted in at least 7,000 deaths. Cholera is caused by the bacteria Vibrio cholerae, and is transmitted when faeces from an infected person contaminates drinking water. Many investigations have connected the cholera epidemic in Haiti to sewage leaked from a U.N. base that housed Nepalese peacekeepers. Toilets have been reported to overflow from the base into the nearby stream. In fact, the strain of bacteria in the Haiti epidemic was similar to a strain in Nepal. Even though, for year, the Haitians have been accusing the U.N. for the outbreak, the U.N. has never accepted responsibility. This has led to serious distrust among the Haitians about the U.N. troops. In 2013, a class action suit was brought against the U.N. on behalf of Haitians who were affected by the outbreak. But the U.N. is immune to such legal actions under international law.

Recently, Farhan Haq, spokesperson for U.N. General Secretary Ban Ki-moon, said the U.N. “needs to do much more regarding its own involvement in the initial outbreak.” “What we are doing is trying to see how this can be resolved. How to resolve this? How to do the right thing?” Dr. Louise Ivers, senior health and policy adviser with Partners in Heath (that has treated thousands of cholera patients), said that the U.N. should have acknowledged its role a long time ago. Brian Concannon, the lawyer who brought the class action suit against the U.N., welcomes U.N.’s new statements but is not completely happy. He says the U.N. “clearly did not definitively take responsibility for introducing cholera.” (Jason Beaubien, NPR)

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

August 23, 2016 at 8:07 am

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