Sobering Zika Updates Released for the US

By Yessenia Funes Aug 09, 2016

There was hopeful news last week about Zika after successful vaccine developments, but that is quickly being counterbalanced by reports that it is spreading throughout the Southeast—and new discoveries that the mosquito- and sex-transmitted virus harms fetuses more than initially thought.

Below, three new, key developments on Zika:

1. Many associate the tropical virus with causing small heads in newborns, a result of a brain deformity that can leave a child blind or unable to eat. A new study published in The BMJ today (Aug. 9) links Zika to arthrogryposis, a rare joint condition that makes it difficult—or impossible—for children to straighten their arms and legs, reports USA TODAY

The study looked at seven babies—all of whom were born with dislocated hips, USA TODAY explains. Their joints appeared fine, however, which likely means that the health issue resulted from “problems in nerve cells that carry signals to a fetus’ muscle.” 

According to USA TODAY:

Most of the children had joint problems in both their arms and legs. Six of the babies had clubfoot, in which the foot is twisted so that the sole can’t be placed on the ground. Six had fingers that were permanently bent. Five also had abnormalities in their eyes, according to the study.

Physical therapy can help improve the condition, but severe cases will leave children with a “lifelong disability,” said James Bale, Jr., a professor of pediatric neurology at the University of Utah School of Medicine, who spoke to USA TODAY.

2. The number of locally transmitted Zika cases has increased. As of yesterday (Aug. 8), one non-travel case was reported in Palm Beach County, Florida. However, the Florida Health Department “still believes active transmissions are only taking place within the identified area that is less than one-square mile in Miami-Dade County.” Seventeen total infections have hit the state, which is conducting thorough investigations to determine how far the virus has traveled.

To date, Florida is the only state experiencing non-travel related cases of the virus, yet Texas doctors are bracing for impact as Zika is expected to hit the state.

3. If you live in areas at risk for Zika—California, New Mexico, Arizona and Louisiana—in the near future there could be genetically-modified mosquitoes flying around. On Aug. 5, the FDA approved the release of the Oxitec mosquito for the Florida Keys. This type of the insect can potentially suppress the local population by mating with wild females and passing on a “self-limiting” gene that kills the offspring before they reach adulthood.  

The FDA consulted the CDC and EPA, held a public comment period and ultimately concluded “the proposed field trial will not have significant impacts on the environment.” In November, Monroe County residents will vote on whether they want the trial to move forward.