Posted 26 January 2016

ASTMH and the American Committee on Arthropod-Borne Viruses (ACAV) 

January 26, 2016 (Updated January 29, 2016)  

“Many of us in the research community are very concerned that Zika has the potential to spread further and become permanently established in the Americas,” said Stephen Higgs, PhD, FRES, FASTMH, President of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene and Director, Biosecurity Research Institute at Kansas State University. “Given the successful spread and establishment of chikungunya virus in the Americas by the same mosquitoes that carry Zika, it is vital that people take steps to avoid being bitten by them.” 

Yellow fever and Asian tiger mosquitoes are capable of carrying several viruses harmful to people, including dengue, chikungunya, and Zika virus. Since its introduction in the Caribbean in 2013, chikungunya virus, for example, has spread throughout the Americas and caused over 1.7 million cases. Chikungunya results in the sudden onset of fever two to four days after exposure and can be fatal in about one in 1,000 cases. Use of mosquito repellent according to manufacturers’ instructions is a priority. Long-term efforts to reduce mosquitoes breeding close to the home is also important. In addition, members of the ASTMH are developing new approaches to control mosquitoes including sterilization so that they can’t reproduce.

“Investing in research is always a good bet in the fight against the global spread of disease. Yellow fever, for example, is relatively rare today because we have an effective vaccine to prevent it,” Higgs said. “After many years of research and much investment, we finally have promising vaccines for dengue and we need to duplicate that success here and with other diseases like malaria and Ebola. America’s health is global health.”   

Zika virus, first discovered in Uganda in 1947, is a virus transmitted by the yellow fever (Aedes aegypti) mosquito, found in tropical and subtropical regions throughout the world. The Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus) is also of concern since it is capable of spreading Zika virus, is present in many countries and breeds close to people.  Little attention was paid to Zika virus until an epidemic in 2007 on Yap Island in the western Pacific Ocean. Approximately three-quarters of those on the island over the age of 3 became infected. This epidemic spread into French Polynesia, where, for the first time, an association was reported between Zika virus infection and Guillain-Barre syndrome. Cases of Zika virus were also seen in Europe, Australia and North America during this period. Currently, Zika virus transmission has been reported in 20 countries in the western hemisphere. There is no vaccine or specific treatments available for Zika virus at this time. 

Symptoms and Treatment
The majority of people who become infected experience no or very mild symptoms, with only about 20% to 25% becoming significantly ill. Of those cases, symptoms start two to 10 days after infection and typically include a red-colored rash, fever, joint pains, red eyes and headache. The illness typically goes away within two to 7 days. Fatalities are very rare. Treatment includes proper rest, hydration and treating fever and pain with acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol). Note: It’s important to avoid any medications that could impact blood platelet function, such as aspirin or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Also, patients should not be exposed to mosquitoes within the first week of infection to prevent the spread of Zika to others.

Zika and Pregnancy
Much has been reported about Zika virus and its danger to pregnant women. There has been an increase in the rate of Guillain-Barre syndrome and the occurrence of congenital microcephaly and infant mortality observed among women infected with Zika virus during pregnancy. Guillain-Barre syndrome is the progressive development of muscle weakness that occurs after infection and may become severe requiring advanced medical care. Congenital microcephaly is when an infant’s head size is much smaller than normal, often leading to a smaller than normal brain. Children with microcephaly may be developmentally delayed and intellectually disabled. 

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ASTMH was founded in 1903 and is the largest international scientific organization of experts dedicated to reducing the worldwide burden of tropical infectious diseases and improving global health. The Society accomplishes this through generating and sharing scientific evidence, informing health policies and practices, fostering career development, recognizing excellence, and advocating for investment in tropical medicine/global health research.

About ACAV
A subgroup within ASTMH, the American Committee on Arthropod-Borne viruses (ACAV) provides a forum for the exchange of scientific information among people interested in the study, prevention and treatment of arboviruses. Arbovirus research focuses on viruses transmitted by arthropods (mainly ticks and mosquitoes).