February 2016 – HAWAII – Hawaii Gov. David Ige declared a state of emergency to fight mosquito borne illnesses including dengue fever and the Zika virus. The state has been in the midst of a dengue fever outbreak on Hawaii’s Big Island, where there were more than 250 confirmed cases. There have been no locally transmitted cases of the Zika virus in Hawaii, Ige said in a news conference Friday. But there’s concern that the islands could be at risk because mosquitoes that can carry dengue fever also can carry the Zika virus. “We are doing everything we can to be prepared, to be proactive, to prevent vector borne diseases here in Hawaii,” Ige said. The emergency proclamation could help the state acquire more money to control outbreaks.
Hawaii is rushing to build up its mosquito control staff after a December report from the Centers for Disease Control highlighted deficiencies in the state’s vector control department. The state slashed its mosquito control and entomology staff during the economic downturn, from 56 employees in 2009 to 25 positions in 2016. Health officials are now searching for funding to rebuild the staff, and the Department of Health plans to hire 10 new staffers with money the governor released, said Virginia Pressler, director of department, on Friday.
“We are actively hiring new staff, an entomologist that will be dedicated to Hawaii Island that will be starting next week as well as additional communications and vector control staff,” Pressler said. Officials stressed that Hawaii is still a safe place to visit. No travel advisories have been issued about Hawaii, and tourism is off to a strong start in 2016, said George Szigeti, president and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority. “There’s no reason to be alarmed or to alter your traveling plans,” Szigeti said. There are active Zika outbreaks on Pacific Islands including American Samoa. Flights between American Samoa and Hawaii run several times per week.
The proclamation also will give the state more power to take preventive measures, including the ability to spray pesticides regardless of a homeowner’s wishes. “There are some who are holding out and not allowing us to be on their property,” Pressler said. “One of the things that this emergency declaration from the governor will allow us to do is that we can in fact enforce that we will come and take care of mosquitoes on a property that someone is refusing, because it is a public health emergency.” –Fox News
Virus continues to spread through Latin America: An epidemiology bulletin from Colombia’s national health institute said there were 31,555 cases of the mosquito-borne virus in the country, including 5,013 pregnant women. The virus is believed to be linked to a neurological birth defect known as microcephaly, in which babies are born with abnormally small heads and suffer incomplete brain development. At the end of January, the Colombian health minister, Alejandro Gaviria, reported roughly 20,000 Zika infections, placing the country second only to Brazil in the severity of its outbreak. No figure for pregnant women was given at the time.
The World Health Organisation has said the virus is also suspected of being linked to the rare neurological disorder Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), in which the body’s immune system attacks part of the nervous system, causes gradual weakness in the legs, arms and upper body and sometimes leads to complete paralysis. The WHO said in a weekly report published on Saturday: “In the context of the Zika virus outbreak, Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Suriname and Venezuela have reported an increase of GBS.” It added: “The cause of the increase in GBS incidence observed in Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador and Suriname remains unknown, especially as dengue, chikungunya and Zika virus have all been circulating simultaneously in the Americas.”
Investigations continued to determine the cause, the WHO said, noting that there was no laboratory confirmation of Zika virus in patients with GBS in Colombia and El Salvador. WHO officials said it was now critical to stop the spread of Zika. “There are concerns that the Zika virus may spread globally to environments where mosquitoes can live and breed,” the organization said. The outbreak has already been declared a public health emergency of international concern, with US and UK health authorities warning pregnant women to avoid travelling to affected areas. All aircraft returning to the UK from affected countries are being sprayed with insecticide.
Around 220,000 soldiers were deployed across Brazil on Saturday in a massive campaign to raise awareness of the virus and offer advice on how to eliminate the Aedes aegypti mosquito that spreads it. –The Guardian