“I wish we knew more . . . I wish we could do more,” a White House request, and more, We’re reading about Zika virus, and the questions it raises

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NewWWRWith confirmation that the Zika virus was transmitted sexually in Dallas, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday updated its guidelines to protect pregnant women from infection to include recommendations that men who have traveled to areas where the virus has surfaced use condoms or abstain from sex with pregnant partners. At the same time, with the appearance of a report from Brazilian researchers that morning that the virus had been found in the saliva and urine of infected individuals, CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden emphasized repeatedly to reporters how much remains unknown about the virus. “I wish we knew more about Zika today,” he said, “I wish we could do more about Zika today.” but he noted, it has been more than half a century since any virus was associated with birth defects, while the association of a mosquito-borne virus with a profound birth defect on the scale with which cases of microcephaly have multiplied in Zika-impacted areas is unprecedented in his experience. With a priority of protecting pregnant women from the virus, the unknowns, or at least questions on which the CDC is not ready to weigh in on included guidelines for men who have sex with men and the ramifications of researchers’ findings on virus in urine and saliva. Frieden stressed what is known, including the needs for communities to control mosquito populations and invest in mosquito control, for pregnant women to “rigorously” avoid mosquito bites, and to stay away from countries where the disease has surfaced. With all of these challenges magnified in some of countries most impacted, and for the women for whom those countries are home, we’re reading about searches for answers.

White House: Preparing for and Responding to the Zika Virus at Home and Abroad – The White House announced today it will ask Congress for more than $1.8 billion in emergency funding to bolster Zika readiness and responses at home and in other countries, including through mosquito control, vaccine and diagnostic research and development, community and clinical outreach, and health-services for low-income women.

CSIS Global Health Policy Center on Zika – J. Stephen Morrison of the Center for Strategic and International Studies was a member of the Harvard-LSHTM Independent Panel on the Global Response to Ebola and in this piece he looks at both the responsibilities of the World Health Organization in its responses to the spread of Zika virus and an observed accompanying increase birth defects and neurological disorders, as well as the impact of the agency’s response on its credibility. Morrison notes the difference in how the organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control have approached the need to protect pregnant women from acquiring the virus. While CDC continues to expand the list of countries it advises pregnant women to stay away from (and as mentioned above has issued guidelines to avert sexual transmissions of the virus), the WHO panel did not include travel warnings, with WHO Director Margaret Chan instead advising mosquito control and avoiding mosquito bites. That’s a significant difference, Morrison notes, and one he says may reflect the influence of upcoming Olympic host Brazil in the matter, as well as a well-intended reluctance, following the damage to West Africa economies furthered by travel bans during the height of the Ebola crisis, to inflict economic harm on already struggling South American and Caribbean countries without scientific proof that is necessary. The situation as well as the consequences of course are different this time, of course, and could lead to further questions of WHO’s readiness to lead the world in appropriate public health responses.

Zika demands WHO leadership on women’s rights – While Zika-affected, abortion-banning countries with limited contraceptive access recommend women simply avoid child-bearing for a couple of years, the international health, equity and human rights advocacy organization AIDS-free World points to one path to redemption available to WHO.

Scientific ignorance about Zika parallels Aids crisis in 1980s, say Brazilian experts – a reminder and an update on why funding for scientific research will never be dispensable.

Tropical Diseases: The New Plague of Poverty -Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine, University professor at Baylor University and Baker Institute Fellow in Disease and Poverty at Rice University Dr. Peter Hotez has weighed in here, and in news outlets on the current Zika spread, but in this Op-ed for the New York Times four years ago, he gave a warning of why diseases that spread easily in areas of endemic poverty can also make themselves at home in the U.S.

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