Zika is no longer an international public health emergency, says WHO

November 22, 2016 by  
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The World Health Organization (WHO) declared on Friday that Zika virus is no longer a global public health emergency . The mosquito-borne illness, which has also proven to be sexually transmitted, causes a severe birth defect called microcephaly and thousands of cases have been reported in South and Central America. Although WHO is downgrading the severity of the Zika threat, the agency also warned the virus is not going away. With this update, the WHO ends the warning originally issued in February 2016 , which identified Zika as an international public health emergency. That acknowledgment came after Zika cases were reported in Central America, following ongoing large outbreaks in Brazil and Colombia throughout 2015. As the end of mosquito season draws near in many parts of the world, WHO recognizes a reduction in transmission. However, when the weather warms again and the Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes that carry Zika begin reproducing faster in the spring, the Zika cases could increase once more. Related: Brazil unleashes millions of genetically modified mosquitoes to combat Zika The WHO “should be prepared to re-examine the decision if, in fact, we have a resurgence of Zika in South America as we enter into the summer months of January and February in the Southern Hemisphere,” according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Despite the WHO declaration, health agencies need to continue research and efforts to control the virus. “It remains crucially important that pregnant women avoid traveling to areas with local transmission of Zika, because of the devastating complications that can occur in fetuses that become infected during pregnancy,” said the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a statement. Via NYT Images via Wikipedia and  PAHO/Flickr

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Zika is no longer an international public health emergency, says WHO

Alarming new study suggests Zika virus could cause infertility in men

November 1, 2016 by  
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It seems every time we think we know all the terrifying health effects of the Zika virus , new research shows it’s even worse than previously believed. A new study from the University of Washington, published in the journal Nature , has found that mice infected with Zika experience shrunken testicles, low testosterone, and low sperm counts — and so far, no one is sure if it could have the same effect in humans. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hSGPi-vB768 Dr. Michael Diamond, co-author of the study, told The Telegraph , “While our study was in mice, and with the caveat that we don’t yet know whether Zika has the same effect in men, it does suggest that men might face low testosterone levels and low sperm counts after Zika infection, affecting their fertility. We don’t know for certain if the damage is irreversible, but I expect so, because the cells that hold the internal structure in place have been infected and destroyed.” The most worrying implication of this new study is the fact that many affected men may not realize the disease has left them infertile until years later. There have already been reports of men with the disease experiencing pelvic pain and bloody urine – symptoms Zika shares in common with other sexually transmitted infections. While doctors have been aware the virus can pass through the reproductive organs , this is the first time researchers have suggested that process might be damaging. Related: Experimental Zika vaccine to be tested on humans for the first time This is the first study of its kind linking Zika to male infertility. In the past, it was believed to be mostly dangerous to pregnant women , whose children were at risk of severe birth defects like microcephaly. In rare cases, the mosquito-transmitted infection could also cause Guillain-Barre syndrome, a condition which can lead to paralysis and death. Men potentially exposed to the disease are currently being told to use condoms for six months, and women in Zika-affected areas are being told to delay pregnancy if possible. + Nature Via The Telegraph Images via Wikimedia Commons and University of Washington

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Brazil unleashes millions of genetically modified mosquitoes to combat Zika

October 31, 2016 by  
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Mosquitoes are an annoyance to nearly everyone who encounters them, and the little buzzers are responsible for spreading diseases like malaria, yellow fever and, of more recent note, Zika virus . Now scientists in Brazil are fighting back by releasing millions of genetically modified mosquitoes that, ideally, will mate with their wild counterparts and produce offspring with very short lifespans, thus causing disease-carrying family lines to die out within a few generations. Since mosquitoes only live a short time, this could greatly reduce the population of mosquitoes spreading infectious diseases in just a few weeks. British biotech firm Oxitec is the company leading the charge on the development of genetically modified male mosquitoes belonging to the Aedes aegypti species, which are responsible for the spread of a slew of diseases. The company launched the Friendly Aedes aegypti project in April 2015 in the town of Piracicaba, where some 60,000 people live under daily threat of diseases like dengue fever and Zika virus . Oxitec has been releasing its “self-limiting” mosquitoes across the city, and reporting huge reductions in cases of diseases those mosquitoes spread. After being released into the wild, the male mosquitoes breed with disease-carrying females and produce offspring that die quickly. The company reports that this technique can bring mosquito populations down by 90 percent, according to the results of five field tests conducted between 2011 and 2014. Related: Zika virus found in US mosquitoes for the first time Despite that good news, there were early concerns that releasing genetically modified mosquitoes may somehow contribute to the spread of viruses like Zika, rather than combat it. Many people blamed Oxitec for the recent Zika epidemic in Brazil, claiming that the aforementioned field tests actually caused the problem. However, experts at the World Health Organization have dismissed that notion in part because the field tests were not conducted in the same region as the Zika hotspot and, while the strategy is controversial, many epidemiologists believe this is the fastest and most effective way to reduce the spread of mosquito-born diseases. Oxitec is still waiting for approval from the Brazilian government to release their next batch of genetically modified mosquitoes, which would number in the millions. The company contracted with the town of Piracicaba in a $1.1 million deal, and erected what it claims is the “first and biggest factory” for genetically modified mosquitoes there, producing 60 million GM mosquitoes per week. (That’s three times the output of China’s largest mosquito factory, which is working on a similar project.) While Piracicaba is Oxitec’s only customer in Brazil, the company has worked in other parts of the world, doing exactly the same thing in an effort to stamp out mosquito-born diseases that are difficult to treat and, sometimes, deadly. Earlier this year, millions of the company’s little buzzers were released in the Cayman Islands and in Florida as well, two other places where Zika has spread. Via Gizmodo Images via Shutterstock and Oxitec

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Brazil unleashes millions of genetically modified mosquitoes to combat Zika

First cases of Zika-related microcephaly confirmed in Thailand

October 3, 2016 by  
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Health officials just confirmed the first two cases of microcephaly linked to the Zika virus in Southeast Asia . The cases were both in Thailand , although officials haven’t said exactly where in the country. Zika outbreaks across Southeast Asia prompted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to warn people, especially pregnant women, against traveling to the area. Out of three cases tested, laboratory tests linked two to the Zika virus in Thailand. Statistics collected by health officials reveal that since the start of 2016, there have been 349 confirmed cases of the Zika virus in the nation; 33 of those cases were pregnant women. Some experts have said Thailand has not been forthcoming about the presence of the Zika virus in the country to protect tourism, but Department of Disease Control adviser Prasert Thongcharoen said “Thailand is not hiding anything and is ready to disclose everything.” Related: Zika outbreak declared in Miami Beach The World Health Organization said governments and locals should work to control mosquitoes , said to transmit the Zika virus as well as other illnesses Thailand faces such as dengue , chikungunya, and malaria. Other health officials in the region said they would be monitoring, but they think the number of people who have the Zika virus is likely higher than they know. Philippines health secretary Paulyn Jean Rosell-Ubia told Reuters, “We do not test everybody, we test only those who are symptomatic. Yes, we are positive that the number is higher because we are not testing everyone.” Around 80 percent of infected people don’t have any symptoms of the Zika virus. In Singapore , there have been 393 cases of Zika, including 16 pregnant women. The CDC said tourists should think about postponing trips to Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia, Malaysia, Maldives, Laos, Philippines, Brunei, Timor-Leste, and Myanmar. There is already an Alert Level 2 travel notice in place for Singapore. Via The Los Angeles Times and Reuters Images via Pixabay and screenshot

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First cases of Zika-related microcephaly confirmed in Thailand

Zika virus can remain in sperm for twice as long as previously thought

August 20, 2016 by  
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Recently, the Zika virus was found in the sperm of a man six months after he originally showed symptoms from the infection. That’s twice as long as the virus was previously thought to survive in sperm. This is particularly concerning because it means that the virus may actually able to replicate and reproduce itself inside the male genitalia.

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Zika virus can remain in sperm for twice as long as previously thought

FDA approves genetically modified mosquitos to fight Zika

August 8, 2016 by  
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With confirmation that Zika-carrying mosquitos have finally spread to the US, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a controversial new experiment to confront the attendant risk. Genetically engineered mosquitoes will be released in Key West , Florida in an attempt to control the spread of the virus. The engineered male mosquitoes contain a gene that causes any offspring to die before the bugs can transmit the disease to humans. The altered Aedes aegypti mosquitoes were created by Oxitec Ltd ., which has already carried out trials in Brazil, the Cayman Islands , and Panama. By any measure, the tests were a runaway success: local mosquito populations were reportedly reduced by 90 percent. While the FDA gave preliminary approval to the test earlier this year, the decision has now been made formal with the agency’s release of an environmental assessment showing the mosquitos would “not have significant impacts on the environment.” However, Oxitec still needs the approval of Key West residents in order to go ahead – polling will take place later this fall. Related: Experimental Zika vaccine to be tested on humans for the first time While this is an effective method of controlling mosquitoes and the numerous diseases they carry without resorting to harsh chemical pesticides, the plan comes with controversy . Some opponents to the plan cite concerns about safety, the impact on tourism, and the potential impact the declining mosquito population could have on the nearby ecosystem. At least one entomologist has argued that the ecological concerns are overblown , since only one particular species of mosquito is targeted by the efforts. However, these concerns are exactly why it’s so important to start with small-scale tests rather than simply releasing the modified mosquitos throughout the country. This approval comes after Center for Disease Control officials confirmed that the Zika virus has finally reached the continental US . Though there have been cases reported throughout the US this year, this is the first time public health officials have seen cases that were acquired by patients in the US. Previous cases were generally acquired when the victims had traveled to countries with a known Zika outbreak, although there have been some cases that were believed to be sexually transmitted . Via The Verge Photos via Yael and DodgertonSkillhause

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FDA approves genetically modified mosquitos to fight Zika

Contemporary Opposite House is designed to grow with its occupants

August 8, 2016 by  
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Located on the Scarborough Bluffs, the Opposite House is split into two halves with different features. The northern street-facing half is clad in dark brick and houses the foyer, bathrooms, and an office space that can be converted into bedrooms. Few windows punctuate this side of the house in order to minimize heat loss in winter. In contrast, the southern half that overlooks Lake Ontario is built with white stucco and opens up to the outdoors with a 10-foot-high curtain wall that runs the entire length of the home and brings natural light and views into the communal spaces. An east-west corridor that runs the home’s entire 146-foot-long length and is bookended by two outsized windows and bedrooms joins the two volumes. Related: Dark 19th century workshop is converted into a bright loft-inspired home “Both outside and in, the Opposite House is at once familiar yet different, spectacular yet comfortable, private as well as public – presenting a study in subtly rendered juxtapositions,” writes the architect. “Two concepts are at work here: Louis Kahn’s “servant and served” maxim, wherein private, back-of-the-house functions are placed on one side, balanced by public relaxation on the other; and the“phototropic” nature of plants, which remain rooted in the earth while their heads blossom towards the sun – interpreted here as a north side wrapped in dark-black, textured brick and a south side presented in bright glass and smooth white stucco.” + RZLBD Images via RZLBD

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INFOGRAPHIC: The challenges and triumphs of engineering the Rio Olympic games

August 3, 2016 by  
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On August 5, all eyes will be on Rio de Janeiro for the opening ceremonies of the summer Rio Olympics . Though the games have already been plagued by issues like poisonous water and Zika virus-prompted boycotts, the games promise to be three weeks of intense competition and inspiring performances from the world’s top athletes. As it draws near, we look at how the city is preparing to host this prestigious event, including the work of civil engineers who played a pivotal role in building the infrastructure and stadiums, and the challenges the city faces. + New Jersey Institute of Technology

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Thousands of paper bats swoop down on Latvias Nature Concert Hall

August 3, 2016 by  
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In contrast to last year’s Nature Concert Hall that comprised an angular pavilion, the 2016 iteration was created as a “levitating cloud” that hovers above a bandstand. The black origami bats were inspired by the common long-eared bat (Plecotus Auritus) that can be found living in Latvia year-round but are facing downward trends in population numbers due to human-induced changes. Related: Latvia’s Nature Concert Hall has a fabric skin that plays with the wind In a bid to raise awareness and appreciation of the bats, the designers created a giant cloud-like mass made from black pieces of paper folded into bat-like shapes. The bats are suspended in a giant net and carefully spaced to create an interesting gradient. The mass is opaque enough to double as a screen for video projections and light installations . “The volume of the cloud is referring to flocking bird and bat created dynamic geometries that can be found in nature,” write DJA. “To achieve maximum lightness and levitation effect art installation is suspended in 3 paired electricity columns far away each from another.” + Didzis Jaunzems Architecture + Nature Concert Hall Images by Uldis Lapins

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Thousands of paper bats swoop down on Latvias Nature Concert Hall

Experimental Zika vaccine to be tested on humans for the first time

June 21, 2016 by  
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The FDA just approved the world’s first clinical trial of a Zika vaccine . The tests will determine whether or not the vaccine is safe for use in normal, healthy people – however, they will not be able to determine whether or not the vaccine prevents the disease. The vaccine, called GLS-5700, has been shown to cause a strong antibody response against the Zika virus in monkeys and mice. With any luck, the results of this new study will be available by the end of the year. The trial will be run by Inovio Pharmaceuticals , a company specializing in immunotherapy, and GeneOne Life Science , a DNA vaccine developer. It will begin in just a few short weeks, and it will include 40 adult subjects. If successful, the vaccine may be tested in people who have an existing Zika infection in later trials. GLS-5700 is what is known as a ” DNA vaccine ,” a relatively new approach to fighting disease. Instead of directly injecting parts of the infectious agent, it consists of DNA coded to produce a special protein that surrounds the Zika virus. The vaccine is injected the same way as a normal shot, and it’s also zapped with a device that delivers a short electrical pulse to help guide the DNA into the patient’s cells. Once this process is complete, the new DNA trains the immune system of the patient to fight the disease. Related: Millions of genetically altered mosquitoes are being released in the Cayman Islands to fight Zika This may be the first Zika vaccine approved for testing, but it isn’t the only one being developed. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is also in the process of developing a DNA vaccine , which may begin phase 1 testing as soon as August. However, it’s important to note that clinical testing is a long and complex process, and that it might still be years yet before either of these vaccines are ready for the mass market. Via The Verge Photos via Tom and Oregon State University

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