Zika fight doesn’t diminish with change in Zika status

December 5th, 2016

Author: Camille Hesterberg, Communications Specialist, IEM

While many Americans were recovering from their holiday feasts last week, the Emergency Committee of the World Health Organization (WHO) was deliberating on whether Zika virus is still a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).[1] Although the decision was made to move Zika from PHEIC to endemic status,[2] this post aims to discuss why now is the time to focus more resources on Zika.

Zika is here to stay

Being labeled as an endemic virus makes one thing clear: Zika is not going anywhere. Over time, the hope is that many populations who have been introduced to the virus for the first time, such as in the Americas, will become immune. But a community cannot build immunity to Zika overnight. Rather, a given population will become protected gradually as the virus circulates throughout the area and individuals are infected. Once infected, a person will likely develop an immune response that provides protection against future infection.


Many U.S. states that provide a hospitable environment for the primary Zika-carrying culprit, the Aedes aegypti mosquito, have not yet seen outbreaks. This puts communities at risk of experiencing the negative effects of Zika, as the virus infects the population for the first time. For those of us who have not yet developed immunity, continuing vaccine research and development is essential to keeping the Zika endemic at bay.

Winter is the best time to get work done

North America is now entering colder months, where temperatures will likely be low enough (in most places) to keep mosquito populations at bay. The winter season essentially acts as Mother Nature’s contribution to mosquito abatement. Nonetheless, we cannot assume that mosquitoes are dead and gone—the eggs of the Aedes aegypti mosquito simply go dormant during colder months, but they do not die. When spring returns with warmer temperatures, surviving eggs need no more than a capful of water to complete their hatching process. Since Zika is transferred from the female mosquito to her eggs, we will see Zika-infected offspring if any Zika-infected mothers laid eggs. Still, while mosquito activity slows, winter is an ideal time for us to continue to eliminate breeding grounds through mosquito abatement and to plan for the resurgence of Zika at the start of the next mosquito season.


Not an easy fight

Unfortunately, there are a few confounding factors that make preparing for, fighting against, and responding to a Zika endemic more difficult:

(1)   Although Zika-carrying mosquitoes go dormant in colder months, humans who live in or travel to/from Zika-affected areas can still spread Zika to each other sexually.

(2)   Not all U.S. states will see cold enough temperatures for Zika-carrying mosquitoes to go dormant. Case in point: Texas, which identified its first case of local transmission days after the WHO changed the Zika status.[3]

(3)   Even if the spread of Zika virus slows, there are still thousands of people worldwide who have already been impacted by Zika. If ongoing studies that track how the virus progresses in humans are stopped, we may miss clues as to how we can best prepare for the impacts of Zika.

We must stay vigilant

It is important to remember with Zika’s status change from PHEIC to endemic, the WHO is not giving any of us (public health experts, government stakeholders, nor community members) permission to turn our backs on those communities and individuals who are at risk of contracting Zika. We must continue public outreach, vaccine development, preparedness planning, and mosquito surveillance and abatement efforts while Zika-carrying mosquitos lay low and some stakeholders try to shift resources elsewhere.

And let’s keep a close eye on what develops in Latin America as their summer season returns. We may see some clues on what to expect when we exit our hibernation period next spring and face the Zika monster once again.


[1] http://www.who.int/emergencies/zika-virus/situation-report/24-november-2016/en/

[2] https://www.statnews.com/2016/11/25/canceling-zika-public-health-emergency-wrong-thing/

[3] https://www.dshs.texas.gov/news/updates.shtm

CBS’s 60 Minutes Features the Fight Against Zika

November 9th, 2016

Author: Dr. Jenn Kruk, Molecular Biologist, IEM

On the November 6th edition of CBS’s 60 Minutes, Dr. Jon LaPook spoke with the country’s top scientists about the fight against Zika and the U.S. government’s efforts to control it.

I can’t speak for others in the public health field, but I was happy to see some national coverage of the current Zika epidemic. At the same time, I struggle with the lack of attention and general dismissal the virus gets from the majority of people who aren’t directly impacted. When it comes to Zika, we need to change the ‘out-of-sight, out-of-mind’ mentality many have now and focus more on public outreach and education.

Read the rest of this entry »

Zika Classified as an STD: What You Need to Know

November 2nd, 2016

Author: Dr. Jenn Kruk, Molecular Biologist, IEM

Unlike other vector-borne diseases such as dengue, yellow fever, and chikungunya, Zika can be spread through the traditional mosquito bite and through sexual transmission. To help stop the spread of Zika through sexual transmission, it is important to understand the risks of Zika as a sexually transmitted disease (STD) and to take proactive measures to protect yourself.

Despite mosquito-borne transmission dwindling over the winter in the majority of the U.S.,  the risk of Zika as an STD will not waver, particularly from the 40 million people that travel between the continental U.S. and Zika-affected areas each year.[1]  This has some people wondering: Will there be a Zika epidemic like we’ve seen with HIV?

Read the rest of this entry »

Hurricane Matthew’s Potential Impact on the Spread of Zika

October 19th, 2016

Author: Sid Baccam, Compuutational Epidemiologist, IEM

In the wake of Hurricane Matthew, there have been concerns regarding how the storm might affect the spread of vector-borne diseases including Zika. Although local transmission of Zika virus has only been confirmed in Florida, coastal areas up through the Carolinas could experience increased human exposure to mosquitoes as they recover from Hurricane Matthew.

An article published by Adrienne Lafrance in The Atlantic looked at this topic. Lafrance cites research conducted at Tulane University that examined the incidence of West Nile disease in areas affected by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Researchers found that the number of people with neurologic disease associated with West Nile Virus had increased sharply in the three weeks following Hurricane Katrina.hurricane-matthew-fl-zika Read the rest of this entry »

Using GIS Technology to Support More Rapid Damage Assessments

October 12th, 2016

Author: Jim Weldin, Senior Emergency Planner, IEM

In the aftermath of a disaster, such as last week’s Hurricane Matthew, one of the crucial tasks of an Emergency Operations Center (EOC) is to determine the extent of impact to the community. This article will discuss the increasing use of Geographic Information Systems as a valuable tool in this process. By modifying and sharing information with the public, both residents and businesses can self-report their damage assessments to EOCs, which helps to develop more immediate situational awareness of the disaster impact.  Read the rest of this entry »

Zika: Protecting Yourself Protects Those around You

October 7th, 2016

Author: Camille Hesterberg, Communications Specialist, IEM

By now, you have probably heard Zika being described as a public health crisis. Zika does not have a direct impact on most people, and it is not life-threatening like some other mosquito-borne illnesses.[1] Therefore, it is challenging for the general population to feel connected to the issue and to be concerned about Zika’s spread. Understanding what makes Zika a public health issue will help people appreciate how their individual actions can help contain the spread of Zika.

Although Zika may not feel personal to you now, the more it spreads, the more likely it is that you will feel its impact. You may become infected and feel unwell as a result; someone you know may become pregnant, and her child may be born with congenital Zika syndrome (term for microcephaly and other Zika-related birth defects)[2]; or, with the price of recovering after a Zika outbreak being more costly than preventative measures that stop the spread of Zika, you may feel the social and economic burdens of this disease for years to come. Read the rest of this entry »

All Mosquitoes are Not the Same When it Comes to Zika

September 23rd, 2016

Author: Sid Baccam, Computational Epidemiologist, IEM

By now, we all know that Zika virus can be spread to humans through pesky mosquito bites. But why should we care only about specific mosquitoes? Aren’t all mosquitoes the same? Actually, there are more than 3,500 species of mosquitoes, 175 of which are found in the United States, and each one is different. The most commonly found species in the U.S. include the Anopheles quadrmaculatus, Culex pipiens, Aedes aegypti, and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes. Read the rest of this entry »

Zika and the Brain: A Public Health Game Changer

September 16th, 2016

Author: Dr. Rashid Chotani, Senior Scientist, IEM

Human infection with Zika virus (ZIKV) was initially reported to be mild and non-life threatening. However, as ZIKV has been introduced into unexposed and highly dense populations, it has evolved. We know now that when the virus attacks the brain of an unborn child, the effects can be devastating.

ZIKV can be passed from mother to fetus (in-utero) during pregnancy, which can result in microcephaly, a very serious condition resulting in life-long disabilities, and other birth defects. Today, I want to discuss ZIKV-related microcephaly and show how the number of U.S. birth defects due to possible Zika infection has alarmingly increased, leading to a serious public health concern in the U.S. and its territories.

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Recent Canonization of Mother Teresa Brings Memories, Realizations for IEM CEO

September 6th, 2016

Author: Madhu Beriwal, President/CEO of IEM

When she learned that Mother Teresa had been declared a saint, IEM CEO Madhu Beriwal was taken back to memories from her childhood, which brought home a powerful realization of the impact that Mother Teresa has had on her life. What follows are Madhu’s reflections after hearing this news on September 4, 2016. 

Mother-Theresa-wikipedia.orgI met Mother Teresa in the 1960s. She was famous in Calcutta (now Kolkata) and well-known in India, but word of her ministry had not yet traversed around the world. When I say “met,” it is both saying too much and too little. The all-girls school I attended in Calcutta (sorry, old habits die hard) raised money for her charity and she came to collect it.

Truthfully, we enjoyed raising the money. The school held a fete, a fair, with games, crafts, and food. Parents and siblings attended. A good time was had by all. It seemed almost incidental that the money raised would be given to Mother Teresa.

So, she came. Several hundred girls stood at attention in the Assembly Hall. As was usual, they fidgeted and moved, their regulation shoes creating a high rustling sound. Starched white uniforms moved stiffly, adding their own sound to the low cacophony. Read the rest of this entry »

Is Zika Here to Stay?

August 22nd, 2016

Author: Rashid Chotani, Senior Scientist, IEM

With Zika virus making its presence known in the United States and local transmission occurring in Florida, there is a growing concern about the risk of Zika. But we have to ask the question: WHY is it spreading so rapidly, and why now? Once Zika virus was identified in Brazil, with knowledge from previous outbreaks, it was obvious that the disease would spread across the Americas and was here to stay. The BIG question was when it would emerge as a locally-transmitted disease in the U.S. Read the rest of this entry »