The Zika virus is a disease that has recently reemerged over the past few years. Doctors discovered the disease in the Zika Forest of Uganda, during the 40’s. Over the past decade, the virus has made its way across the Pacific Ocean and to the Americas, causing an unprecedented epidemic. Find out why so many people are worried about the Zika virus, and what you should know about this troubling disease.
What Makes the Zika Virus So Dangerous?
The Zika virus is related to the dengue, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis, and the West Nile viruses. Like many of these viruses, Zika is most commonly transmitted through mosquitoes. However, what makes the disease truly troubling is that it can also spread from mother to child, through sex, and through blood transfusions, making it a sexually transmitted disease.
People who contract the Zika virus don’t usually display any signs or symptoms of the disease. When people do show signs of the virus, the most common symptoms are fever, rash, headache, joint pain, red eyes, and muscle pain. These are mild symptoms, lasting for only a few days or a week. What makes Zika such dangerous condition is how it affects women who are pregnant. The virus can cause severe birth defects, as well as miscarriages and stillbirths.
A recent study at the published in the EMBO Journal looked into why the virus seems to affect people more during pregnancy than after. Researchers found is that low levels of an antiviral factor called interferon-induced transmembrane protein 3 (IFITM3) leave the body susceptible to the virus. IFITM3 prevents the multiplication of the virus and the cells from dying.
Preventing the Virus From Affecting You
The researchers of the Zika study hope to develop drugs in the future to prevent the destruction of cells and the virus. For now, the CDC recommends several ways to avoid contracting the virus.
- Keep Bugs Away – The first method is to keep mosquitoes away from you. Mosquitoes are the primary cause of the virus. It is advised that people wear long-sleeved shirts and pants and used EPA-registered insect repellents.
- Prep Your Home – Mosquitoes can easily invade your home. That’s why the CDC suggest keeping the air conditioner on and closing your windows and screen doors. You should also use mosquito netting to cover bedding for you and your children.
- Use Protection During Sex – Like most sexually transmitted disease, condoms and abstinence will protect you or your partners from contracting the disease.
- Avoid Traveling to Zika Areas – The CDC stresses that pregnant women should avoid traveling to areas at risk for Zika. They are more vulnerable to the dangerous effects of the virus.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for the Zika Virus. Taking these precautions will help keep you safe. The CDC is still researching a way to reduce the spread of this disease and eventually cure it. It is also important to get tested for the virus. By knowing if you are infected with the virus, you can plan for the future.
For many aging adults, certain exams and tests at the doctor’s is a given. Those exams, along with their healthcare providers who pay for them, understand that with age comes certain increased health risks. One area of concern, however, has seemed to skip over this generation of adults. In the world of HIV screening tests, many doctors and other healthcare professionals simply overlook those within the older adult range. In light of this oversight, in 2006, the CDC issued a statement recommending that adults aged 50-64 be screened for HIV.
Research prior to that date had shown that this portion of the population had some living with an infection but not knowing it. Hence, we saw this call to healthcare givers to make a habit of testing older adults for the virus. While the suggestion was heeded, the effort was not sustained. This has caused some concern.
In the years leading up to 2006, the numbers were not high as far as HIV testing for this age group was concerned. Within just a three-year period, the percentage dropped from over 5% to just under 4%, this all taking place prior to the CDC‘s exhortation. In hopes of increasing awareness for these adults and their health care providers, the recommendation for HIV testing to be considered routine for this age group went out in 2006. The numbers did pick up immediately after the suggestion by the CDC was made. However, percentages only increased by one or two points. The news that researchers found most alarming was that this increase was not sustained. The number of older adults tested dropped within a couple years to below the average before the recommendation. Risk factors, however, have remained constant for this age group.
Awareness of these facts will hopefully spark additional efforts to revisit what was recommended nearly a decade ago. Not only should doctors be aware and do what they can for HIV screening tests for these adults, but patients may need to self-advocate in this instance. While no one looks forward to the list of health issues faced as we age, HIV is a big one to have crossed off the list. So check with your doctor and ask about HIV risks and testing at your next visit.
The trends of social media have changed how, and how quickly, information becomes publicly known. Social media can now tell us things like where the next fashion, music, and entertainment movements will occur, along with which regions of the United States are more likely to love something that other regions will hate. One application of the information now available through social media is to map out the spread of diseases such as influenza and strands of the common cold. This application could lead to more sophisticated ways of stopping the spread of HIV, by using social media to track and possibly halt further infection.
Sean Young, at the Center for Digital Behavior at the University of California, Los Angeles, published an article this past October dealing with a possible future, where social media can predict and even change biomedical outcomes. This translates into being able to chart, predict, and maybe even ebb the transmission of preventable infectious diseases, like HIV. Social media information, such as Twitter tweets and Facebook posts, which shows the recent – or eminent – drug and sexual related activities associated with the risk of infection, can be collected and cross-referenced with known information on HIV. In addition to education of what activities and what areas are at the highest risk of infection, this cross-referencing can help medical researchers find focal points to make testing more available. It can also help researchers make the availability of treatment an easier possibility for those getting tested and learning they’re HIV positive. Surveys are also showing that those who post about this topic, or who read about HIV through their online communities, are more likely to get themselves tested.
A cautionary tale for many is that the collection of this data is done the same way corporations are currently taking information in an attempt to raise profits. This type of marketing has created a major backlash from those who fear for their privacy. Sean Young has an answer to this caution: “Since people are already getting used to the fact that corporations are doing this, we should at least support public health researchers in using these same methods to try and improve our health and well-being.” He further added, “We’re already seeing increased support from patients and public health departments.” Young hopes that a more general acceptance of this type of data collection by medical researchers will follow suit. He, like many, believes that social media and other modern technologies are the key to stopping the spread of HIV in the future.
AIDSVu is helping us all take a new look at how HIV is affecting the nation as a whole – whether on a city scale, by zip code area, or a nationwide map, this project shows those infected with HIV per capita. What is the benefit of such a project? Prevalence of the disease can now be compared against maps showing potentially significant contributing factors to see if they are truly relevant.
For example, is HIV more prevalent in poor parts of cities or the nation as a whole compared to wealthy areas? Is there a connection between the availability of a quality education and the spread of HIV? Is HIV more common in parts of the country where people frequently do not have health coverage?
It’s not that studies like this haven’t ever been done – but nothing on this scale has ever been so accessible to the public before. We may have heard lump sum figures of how many in the country suffer from HIV, but now we can see a breakdown by stats such as gender, ethnicity, and age.
By revealing which parts of the country have the highest number of HIV diagnoses, it becomes clearer to see whereabouts it is necessary to have the most testing services available, as well as places that treatment centers are most needed.
Data is now available from 20 major US cities, and there are also state maps, all from data collated in 2010 and based on reports from the CDC.
These maps reveal a number of telling truths about the disease, such as the fact that HIV is more prevalent in the Northeastern and Southern parts of the country. It also shows higher infection rates in inner city areas and among minority groups.
Hopefully these maps will create the awareness necessary in fighting the continuing scourge of HIV.
There’s good news for those in isolated areas of the world – HIV testing has just become portable. A new device that can take a simple pinprick from a finger, and provide accurate blood test results, is a big advancement for those who have never had access to a lab facility for testing.
HIV afflicts many of the poorest nations in the world, with over two thirds of the more than 34 million infected living in Africa. Many of these individuals cannot get tested or treated because they cannot get to a facility to do so. These nations are already poor enough without the economic burden caused by unknown and untreated cases of HIV – over 16 million children in Africa have been orphaned by this disease.
The mobile device was developed at a low cost, and can be used even in remote areas – making it perfect for use in the sorts of areas hit hardest by the disease. Test results are ready in just 15 minutes, and it only requires one drop of blood from the finger tip. It performs all the same functions as the expensive, immobile equipment used in labs.
The device can even detect patients who are borderline positive and might otherwise go undiagnosed. Topping off these advantages is the ability to update patient records remotely – again, this is perfect for out of the way areas where Internet access may be limited, but satellite or cell service is still available.
Another advantage is that this can be used to track trends in the spread of the disease, helping medical facilities and organizations to better know where to send medical supplies and help treat the disease. Remote areas that have never had treatment available, because no one knew for sure whether or not HIV was common in those areas, may now receive the help that they need.