This week, I am going to talk about what is arguably the most pressing virus that humans are facing today, not entirely because of its lethality, but because of its widespread effects and absence of a cure. Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) has currently infected 37 million individuals worldwide. Shockingly, it is estimated that only 54% of those who are infected with HIV are aware of their infection, meaning that roughly 46% of those infected are unaware that their bodies are fighting a potentially life-threatening diseases. Below, I want to present some facts about HIV:
- It is estimated that there will be roughly 2 million new HIV infections every year
- HIV is a virus that infects a person’s immune system, particularly their CD4 T cells
- While the immune system is able to fight off most pathogens without a problem, HIV mutates so quickly in the body that the immune system is unable to effectively combat it
- 2-4 weeks after being infected with HIV, a person may experience any of the following symptoms: fever, chills, rash, night sweats, muscle aches, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, and mouth ulcers. Not all people will show these symptoms, and some people may not show symptoms at all for over 10 years.
- After a certain amount of time, these symptoms will subside. When the symptoms subside, the virus is lying dormant in the body. During this time, the virus is being suppressed by the body’s immune system, but it is constantly evolving and mutating to find ways to break free.
- Eventually, due to the chronic infection, the body’s immune system begins to lose its ability to hold back the virus and the CD4 T cells begin to die off. At this time, the virus rises in its numbers and the patient will progress to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). When a patient has AIDS, they experience many negative symptoms, and eventually succumb to an opportunistic infection because the body’s immune system has been severely degraded.
- There is no cure for HIV, and no vaccine to prevent people from contracting it. Fortunately, we have Anti-Retroviral Therapies (ART’s) which can greatly prolong an infected individual’s life by helping the immune system suppress the virus. These treatments, while effective, are also extremely expensive, adding a financial burden to those who are infected.
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So, it’s been a while since I first wrote about Zika Virus… Today, almost every major news outlet carried the story that the Deputy Director of the CDC publicly stated that “Zika is scarier than we initially thought.” Today alone, I noticed this quote on the front pages of many news apps and papers. Given the fear that this headline easily instills in others, I figured this would be the perfect time to break down the facts of Zika, as it is currently understood.
- Since my last Zika post, it has been shown that Zika Virus can be transmitted sexually, with 7 confirmed cases in the US mainland resulting from this.
- Zika Virus is actively spreading throughout most of South America, all of Central America, and is beginning to spread through North America, including 30 states in the US.
- Caribbean islands, especially Puerto Rico, are predicted to have a large increase in their number of Zika cases in the near future as we head into the summer months and there is increased interactions between mosquitos and humans
- The CDC is warning women who are pregnant, or who are considering becoming pregnant in the near future, to avoid traveling to regions of the world where Zika Virus is actively transmitting.
- Zika virus has been linked to an increase in the rates of microcephaly, particularly in Brazil, however not all pregnant women who contract Zika Virus will give birth to babies with deformities
- It is possible that Zika Virus is associated with an increase rate of other birth defects, including vision problems, auditory deficits, and abnormal growth
- As with many diseases, if you are infected with Zika Virus and the body fights off the infection, there is little to no risk that you will contract the virus again given your body’s immune response and memory
- The White House, as recommended by the CDC, is diverting $589 million dollars in funding that was earmarked for Ebola prevention to promote research into the Zika Virus
Map showing the countries where Zika is actively transmitting, as of April 12, 2016 (CDC.gov)
There is still much to learn about Zika Virus and the research community is examining new ways to study, diagnose, and treat Zika Virus. As more developments arise, I will definitely post more updates to keep you informed! Thanks for reading my blog, and please let me know if you have any questions or comments about any of the diseases I have talked about so far. If you have suggestions for other diseases for me to talk about, please comment them below!
Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, commonly referred to as MERS has been circulating the world lately. Before the Zika Virus outbreak in Brazil and the Ebola crisis in Africa, MERS received a lot of attention from the media because it is a relatively new disease in humans. The first human cases of MERS were seen in 2012 in Saudi Arabia. Since that time, MERS has been seen in many countries around the world. MERS is currently circulating in the Arabian Peninsula and parts of the Republic of Korea. Since 2012, there have only been 2 cases confirmed in the US, both of which originated in travelers who had traveled to a region which had a MERS outbreak.
MERS is caused by the MERS Coronavirus, known as MERS-CoV. It is believed that MERS-CoV originated in bats, but it is commonly found in camels. MERS transmits from animals to humans easily, but human to human transmission is not easily seen. MERS is fatal in many cases, especially in countries where the healthcare system is not very adequate. There is currently no vaccine to protect humans from contracting MERS, and there are no definitive treatments. To add to the difficulty in combating MERS, there are no clear diagnostic tests to allow doctors to accurately diagnose the disease in its early stages.
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The Ebola Virus, as viewed under a microscope (CDC.gov)
While the Zika outbreak has captured much of the attention of the news, there is some important news that just released on the Ebola outbreak that occurred last year. On February 19, 2016, a major change occurred in the United States’ response to the Ebola crisis. The Department of Homeland Security decided to end its enhanced screening procedures for those who were arriving in the United States from countries in Africa that experienced the Ebola epidemic. The screenings included temperature checks at five of the major international airports in the country, including JFK, Newark, Dulles, Chicago, and Atlanta. This decision was made after the World Health Organization declared that the Ebola outbreak was over. It has been more than 42 days since the last known Ebola patient recovered, marking a period twice as long as the incubation period of the disease.
For now, it looks like the Ebola crisis has ended. In my next post, I will discuss where Ebola came from, and what we are doing to prevent an outbreak like this from occurring again in the future.
One of the most common problems noticed when a new disease emerges and the scientific community races to study it is the problem of under reporting. Under reporting in disease research can be seen at the case-reporting level (when local doctors incorrectly diagnose a disease and do not alert the proper authorities) or at a larger level, where whole countries do not properly understand and report the prevalence with a disease.
Under reporting can have serious consequences in infectious disease research because when scientists need to understand the severity of a disease, they will be unable to get an accurate and true picture. In the current Zika Virus outbreak in South America, one of the major problems being seen is the lack of accurate records as to the prevalence of microcephaly in children before the Zika outbreak. Scientists want to examine if there truly are more cases of microcephaly now than before, but the lack of records is proving to make the task difficult to complete.
Another example of where under reporting is proving to be a problem is in the study of Melioidosis, also known as Whitmore’s disease. Many people have never heard of this disease, (I haven’t heard of it before writing this post!!) but it is one of the most prevalent diseases spreading through many developing nations, such as India, Brazil, and other tropical areas. Melioidosis is caused by a shape-changing bacteria in contaminated soil and water, and it can infect both humans and animals. A new study, published in Nature Microbiology, estimates that this disease is under reported in 45 countries where it is known to exist, and is present in 34 more countries that do not report it yet. This is a serious problem because Melioidosis can be fatal within 48 hours of symptoms occurring. In these developing nations, where access to healthcare is limited and people live very close to one-another, this under reported disease can cause a serious problem in the future.
When you turn on your TV or open a news app on your phone, you are surrounded by talks about the Zika Virus. While the news focuses on Zika Virus as it is spreading through the Americas, little is being reported on its history in the world. Earlier this week, an article written by Jon Cohen was published in Science that briefly traces the history of Zika virus from when it was first discovered to the present day. Below, I will present an overview of some of the main historical facts presented in the article to set the stage for more posts about Zika in the weeks ahead…
- The first reports of Zika Virus occurred in April of 1947 from a group of scientists studying yellow fever in the Zika Forest in Uganda. These scientists observed a rhesus monkey with an abnormal fever. At the time, they were unsure what the virus was. The virus was isolated and injected into mice to check for the possibility of transmission.
- A few months later, the same scientists discovered the same virus infecting the Aedes africanus Again, this virus was checked for transmission and it matched the virus isolated from the rhesus monkey. The scientists named it Zika Virus, after the Zika Forest that it was discovered in.
- One of the first scientists to examine Zika Virus’ mechanism of transmission was William Bearcroft. Bearcroft injected himself with isolated Zika Virus and waited until he had symptoms of the disease – headaches and a slight fever. Once he noticed symptoms, Bearcroft allowed female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes to bite his left arm. He took these mosquitoes to healthy mice, allowed them to bite the mice, and later observed the symptoms of Zika in the mice. This simple experiment confirmed that Zika Virus is transmitted by mosquitoes to humans and other organisms.
- Since these initial discoveries, Zika has not been extensively studied, as other, more pressing and emergent diseases came to light
- The latest outbreak, currently occurring, is the largest recorded Zika outbreak. Due to the greater number of infected individuals, scientists will be able to study the virus more accurately and in greater detail.
In today’s outbreak, many news articles are detailing the correlation of Zika Virus and increased rates of microcephaly (abnormally small heads) in newborns in countries such as Brazil. While this at first sounds terrifying, it is important to realize that there is no proven link between the two observations, and it is currently only a possibility. The CDC has published a study detailing how there may be an association between Zika Virus and Microcephaly, but cautioned that prior to the Zika Virus fear, newborn head sizes were not recorded as accurately in many regions of Brazil, meaning that cases of microcephaly prior to Zika’s appearance could have slipped past the statistics. Currently, only 270 cases of suspected microcephaly have been confirmed, from the initial, newly identified 4,180 cases. Of these 270 newborns, only six were found to have the Zika Virus inside of them. It is important for this message to get out to the general public so fear and panic does not set in. While we do not know much about Zika Virus yet, it is important for the scientific community, the news media, and the general public to hold out on passing judgement until claims are proven.
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