Aug 17, 2016 –Three news articles are enclosed, plus links to related news.
Cuba reports no Zika transmission since March; Dengue all but eliminated
By Marc Frank, Reuters, Tuesday, June 28, 2016
HAVANA – Cuba has successfully held off the Zika epidemic and in the process all but eliminated Dengue fever and other mosquito-carried illnesses, state-run media reported on Tuesday.
Public Health Minister Roberto Morales Ojeda told a Council of Ministers meeting that a series of measures taken this year to eliminate the Aedes strain of mosquito that carries Zika and other viruses had drastically reduced infestations. There had been no infections, he said, since one locally transmitted case, the country’s 14th, was reported on March 15.
Cuba (population 11.3 million) has called out the military to help fumigate, activated neighborhood watch groups to check there is no standing water where the insects breed, instituted health checks at airports and other entry points to the Caribbean island, among other measures.
A source in the health ministry, with access to epidemiological data, told Reuters last week that there was no Zika transmission. “We are all over it. Every time someone enters the country from Brazil or Venezuela or wherever and comes down with Zika, more than 20 cases so far, we isolate them and check their neighborhoods,” the source said, asking not to be identified as the information is considered classified.
The source has contradicted official reports in the past due to the individual’s concern for public health.
U.S. health officials have concluded that Zika infections in pregnant women can cause microcephaly, a birth defect marked by small head size that can lead to severe developmental problems in babies.
The World Health Organization has said there is strong scientific consensus that Zika can also cause Guillain-Barre, a rare neurological syndrome that causes temporary paralysis in adults.
The connection between Zika and microcephaly first came to light last fall in Brazil, which has now confirmed more than 1,300 cases of microcephaly that it considers to be related to Zika infections in mothers.
The United States and Cuba signed an historic agreement last week to collaborate on health issues, including Zika, as part of detente begun in December 2014.
Media quoted Health Minister Morales as stating that due to efforts to date, there were no reported cases of Chikungunya, another mosquito-spread virus, and that Dengue, endemic to the region, had been all but eliminated.
“Dengue, which when we began our intensive campaign was present in 14 provinces and the special municipality of the Isla de la Juventud, today is present in only one municipality in Guantanamo province,” he said.
(Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Dan Grebler)
U.S. declares a Zika public health emergency in Puerto Rico
By Julie Steenhuysen, Reuters, Friday, Aug 12, 2016
‘Also on Friday, Florida said three more people had become infected with Zika by local mosquitoes, bringing the total to 28.’
CHICAGO – The Obama administration on Friday declared a public health emergency in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, saying the rapid and widespread transmission of the Zika virus threatens the health of infected pregnant women and their babies.
The Caribbean island of about 3.5 million people has recorded 10,690 laboratory-confirmed cases of Zika, including 1,035 pregnant women, but the actual number of infections with the mosquito-borne virus is likely higher, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement.
Among U.S. states and territories, Puerto Rico is expected to see the worst of the Zika outbreak due to its tropical climate and a lack of infrastructure for mosquito control. The only local transmission of the virus so far reported in the continental United States has been in South Florida.
The virus can cause microcephaly, a birth defect marked by abnormally small head size and developmental problems in babies. It also can also be spread by sex, prompting public health officials to advise that people who have been infected refrain from unprotected sex for several months.
“This administration is committed to meeting the Zika outbreak in Puerto Rico with the necessary urgency,” HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell said in a statement.
The public health emergency declaration is a tool for the federal government to provide fresh support to Puerto Rico’s government to tackle the outbreak and grants access to certain federal funds.
The last time HHS declared such an emergency was in 2012 in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, which slammed into the New Jersey shore and flooded parts of New York City.
It was the second important step to fight Zika that the federal government has taken in as many days. The administration said on Thursday it had shifted $81 million in funds from other projects to continue work on developing vaccines to fight Zika in the absence of any funding from U.S. lawmakers.
Request from the governor
HHS made the declaration at the request of Puerto Rico Governor Alejandro García Padilla. It allows Puerto Rico to apply for funding to hire and train unemployed workers to assist in mosquito control efforts, as well as for outreach and education efforts.
It also allows Puerto Rico to temporarily reassign public health workers to assist in the Zika response.
“The declaration will allow access to more funds, the waiving of certain regulatory procedures to speed response, reassign key personnel, allow temporary personnel appointments, and provide the authority to take necessary actions to combat the outbreak,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert and senior associate at the UPMC Center for Health Security in Baltimore.
Also on Friday, Florida said three more people had become infected with Zika by local mosquitoes, bringing the total to 28.
Zika was first detected last year in Brazil, where it has taken its heaviest toll so far, and has spread rapidly through Latin America and the Caribbean.
“The threat of Zika to future generations of Puerto Ricans is evident, and I feel a responsibility to do everything that is within my reach to make sure we fight the spread of the virus,” Garcia Padilla said in a statement.
The Obama administration in February requested $1.9 billion to fight Zika, but the Republican-led Congress has approved no money. A bill providing $1.1 billion was blocked by Democrats after Republicans attached language to stop abortion-provider Planned Parenthood from using that government funding for healthcare services, mainly in U.S. territories like Puerto Rico.
The Republican legislation also would siphon off unused money under Obama’s signature 2010 healthcare law to combat Zika.
Cuba reports fresh Zika virus cases
Deutsche Welle, Aug 4, 2016 (with video examining the Zika epidemic in Brazil and what is known about the Zika virus)
Cuba’s health ministry says two new cases of Zika virus contracted inside the country have appeared. The Communist-ruled island has been quarantining infected travelers and spraying for mosquitoes that can carry the virus.
Cuban health officials reported two new cases of residents contracting the mosquito-borne Zika virus locally on Wednesday, a setback for the Caribbean country that has taken a series of measures that for weeks had resulted in only a single confirmed case.
“Last August 1, two new locally contracted cases of the Zika virus were diagnosed, corresponding to residents in the city of Holguin who had not traveled abroad, which brings the total up to three,” the Health Ministry said in a statement carried by state media.
The ministry said the patients remained hospitalized, in a state of good general health. Epidemiologists are investigating the affected area to identify the possible existence of new cases and continuing the fight against the Aedes strain of mosquito that continues to spread across Latin America, Africa and Southeast Asia.
Cuba has activated its military to help fumigate several areas, organize neighborhood watch groups to check for standing water that harbors larvae, and institute proactive health checks at airports and other entry points to the Caribbean island, among other measures.
Florida grapples with more than a dozen cases
Meanwhile, 180 kilometers (110 miles) across the water in the U.S. state of Florida, state officials have confirmed at least 15 cases of Zika virus on the U.S. mainland. In an unprecedented warning, federal health officials directed pregnant women to avoid a Zika-stricken part of the state’s largest city, Miami.
The Zika virus can cause severe brain-related defects, including abnormally small heads, a condition known as microcephaly, in children born of women infected by the virus. Even if the brain appears to be developing normally, studies also have linked Zika to stillbirths, poor fetal growth and other problems.
* Pregnant women advised to avoid travel to active Zika zone in Miami Beach, New York Times, Aug 19, 2016
* Puerto Rico’s financial woes revive calls for independence, by Mary Williams Walshaug, New York Times, Aug 16, 2016
… The United Nations had declared the 1950s a “decade of decolonization,” [Cancel Miranda] said, and Puerto Rico was put on a list of colonies to be freed. But, he said, Washington merely appeared to go along with the proceedings — its main preoccupation was the Cold War. It wanted to remove Puerto Rico from the list of colonies, but not give it full autonomy, Mr. Cancel Miranda said, which might have meant losing the island’s ports, airfields and other strategic assets.
* Cuba, Puerto Rico and Zika: Revolution is good for your health, by Lyn Neeley, Workers World, April 3, 2016
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