Puerto Rico braced for more Zika cases

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BBC’s Tulip Mazumdar reports that hundreds of thousands of people in the Puerto Rico could become infected with the Zika virus in the coming months, according to the director of America’s Centre for Disease Control, Dr. Tom Frieden.

Dr Tom Frieden says this could lead to “thousands” of brain-damaged babies. Zika has now been reported in 31 countries and territories in the Americas, with Brazil the worst hit.

There have been about 100 cases of Zika reported in mainland US. These were in travellers who had recently returned from Zika-hit countries. The Aedes aegypti mosquito that spreads the virus can be found in about a dozen US states, so the mainland is bracing itself for locally transmitted infections very soon. Southern states such as Florida and Texas are particularly vulnerable.

But Dr Frieden – who is advising the president on this emergency – says Puerto Rico is the biggest concern for the US. There have been almost 120 cases there so far. “Close to 90% of adults in Puerto Rico have been infected with dengue [which is transmitted by the same mosquito as Zika]… so we need to do everything possible to reduce the risk to pregnant women there,” Dr Frieden says.

Zika is not considered particularly dangerous in most people, but there is a strongly suspected link between the virus and babies being born with under-developed brains. “This possible or  probable association with microcephaly is extraordinarily unusual,” says Dr Frieden. “We’re not aware of any previous infection spread by mosquitoes that can cause a potentially devastating foetal malformation.” [. . .]

On the frontline of the US’ fight against Zika, CDC scientists in Puerto Rico are urgently trying to find new tools to fight these mosquitoes.

The insects have been on the island for many centuries, spreading dengue and, more recently, chikungunya. And they have started to become resistant to the main insecticides used to kill them.

Scientists at the CDC’s dengue branch in the Puerto Rican capital, San Juan, are urgently trying to establish which insecticides are still effective. [. . .]

For full article, see http://www.bbc.com/news/health-35690768

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