- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 3, 2016

PARIS (AP) - The Latest on the mosquito-born Zika virus, which is linked to brain deformities in babies (all times local):

2:00 a.m.

The head of the Pan American Health Organization says more resources are needed quickly if the region is to fight the Zika outbreak.

Carissa Etienne told health ministers from Latin America holding an emergency meeting in Uruguay on Wednesday that every nation in the region needs to devote more money to expand mosquito control campaigns, bolster health services and educate the public on the dangers.

Etienne says governments also must do more to track the spread of Zika as well as suspected complications from the virus, including microcephaly and Guillain-Barre syndrome. Brazilian researchers suspect the explosive spread of Zika is tied to an increase in microcephaly and Guillain-Barre cases, though scientists have not yet proven a link.

Etienne also told the ministers they should act now even though there is not yet a complete understanding of Zika. In her words: “One fact of which we are unequivocally sure is that the Zika virus_like dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever viruses_is transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. The most effective control measures are the prevention of mosquito bites and the reduction of mosquito populations.”


11:50 p.m.

Brazil’s president says Zika virus has gone from a “distant nightmare” to a “real threat” against the Brazilian people.

In a pre-recorded, prime time television address Wednesday, Dilma Rousseff calls on citizens to unite to combat the mosquito that transmits the virus, which researchers in Brazil have linked to a rare birth defect. She describes concrete measures people can take to eliminate the mosquito’s breeding grounds in their homes.

She also has “words of comfort” for the women who have given birth to babies with the birth defect, microcephaly, saying: “We will do everything, absolutely everything, to protect you.”

She says the government is mobilizing to develop a vaccine but insists that until it’s ready, the best course of action remains to prevent the mosquito from breeding.


11:15 p.m.

The agency responsible for most of Canada’s blood supply says people who have traveled outside of Canada, the continental United States and Europe will be ineligible to give blood for 21 days after their return.

Canadian Blood Services says it is implementing the waiting period to mitigate the risk of the Zika virus entering the Canadian blood supply.

In a release Wednesday, the agency said the new waiting period is being implemented across the country and will take full effect in all of its clinics starting on Feb. 5.

Quebec’s blood operator, Hema-Quebec, will be implementing the same change as of this Sunday.

Canadian Blood Services says the 21-day period ensures enough time has passed for the virus to be eliminated from a person’s bloodstream, but it is asking people to postpone donation for at least a month after returning from travel outside the specified zones.

“This new temporary deferral period will safeguard Canada’s blood supply against the Zika virus, and will also help us protect against other similar mosquito-borne viruses,” Dr. Dana Devine, chief medical and scientific officer for Canadian Blood Services, said in a statement.


11:05 p.m.

International health officials tell The Associated Press that Brazil has yet to share enough samples and disease data needed to answer the most worrying question about the Zika outbreak: whether the virus is actually responsible for the increase in the number of babies born with abnormally small heads in Brazil.

The lack of data is frustrating efforts to develop diagnostic tests, drugs and vaccines. Laboratories in the United States and Europe are relying on samples from previous outbreaks. Scientists say having so little to work with is hampering their ability to track the virus’ evolution.

One major problem appears to be Brazilian law. At the moment, it is technically illegal for Brazilian researchers and institutes to share genetic material including blood samples containing Zika and other viruses.


10:35 p.m.

A U.S. travel alert has been issued for two more destinations because of the Zika virus.

Health officials Wednesday added Jamaica and Tonga in the South Pacific to the list of places with outbreaks where travelers should protect themselves against the mosquito-borne virus.

There are now 30 travel destinations on the list, most of them in Latin America or the Caribbean. The government recommends that pregnant women postpone trips to those destinations because of a suspected link between the virus and a birth defect, seen mostly in Brazil.


10:15 p.m.

Member countries of the Central American Integration System have agreed to implement a regional action plan to fight the Zika virus in the coming days.

Salvadoran Public Health Minister Violeta Menjivar says the foreign and health ministers of Central American countries and the Dominican Republic agreed to the plan in a video conference on Wednesday.

The ministers also agreed to mobilize the population, public institutions and private organizations to destroy mosquito breeding sites and take measures to prevent bites, especially of pregnant women.

Menjivar, who early participated in the World Health Organization conference, said “the most important effort must be the destruction of (mosquito) breeding grounds, nothing is more important.”


9:15 p.m.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has declared a health emergency in four counties of the state because of the Zika virus.

At least nine cases of the mosquito-borne illness have been detected in Florida. Health officials believe all of the cases are from people who contracted the disease while traveling to affected countries.

Scott signed the order Wednesday to cover Miami-Dade, Lee, Hillsborough and Santa Rosa counties.

The Zika virus is linked to brain deformities in babies and is causing concern among public health officials worldwide. The virus is primarily spread through mosquito bites, but investigators had been exploring the possibility it could be sexually transmitted.

U.S. health officials say a person in Texas became infected with Zika through sex in the first case of the illness being transmitted within the United States.


9 p.m.

Brazil’s Health Ministry is calling for deeper investigation into studies on the transmission of Zika, following reports out of Texas that the virus had been spread through sex.

The Health Ministry said in a statement Wednesday that “until now, there is no proof of the transmission of Zika through sexual relations.”

The ministry underscored its longstanding recommendation of condom use to prevent sexually transmitted diseases.

U.S. health officials said Tuesday a person in Texas became infected with Zika through sex.

The World Health Organization says that the reported case of sexually transmitted Zika virus is raising concerns.


8:40 p.m.

Brazil’s health regulator Anvisa is authorizing the registry of laboratory tests that can detect the dengue, chikungunya and Zika viruses.

Anvisa spokesman Carlos Lopes said from Brasilia on Wednesday that two tests will be able to spot all three viruses using antibodies from the illnesses, and several months after a person has been infected.

Two other tests can identify the viruses but only one at a time and only if the person was infected while being tested.

Lopes says the tests are expected to help improve the accuracy of diagnoses between the three viruses that are transmitted by the same Aedes aegypti mosquito.

A German and a Brazilian lab are now in charge of the registry to carry out the tests before the Brazilian government distributes it to other accredited labs.


8:30 p.m.

Mexico has launched a radio and television ad campaign to encourage pregnant women to take measures to avoid getting Zika.

Mexico has only 37 confirmed cases, none of them among pregnant women.

But the Health Department says pregnant women should take special care after babies were born in Brazil with extremely small heads, possibly related to their mothers being infected with the Zika virus. The broadcast ads urge pregnant women to wear long-sleeved clothing, use mosquito repellant and keep windows and doors closed.

The ads are scheduled to run at least through March, and tell women the disease “could seriously affect your pregnancy.”


6:40 p.m.

Latin American health ministers meeting in Uruguay are focusing on why Zika has been linked to birth defects in Brazil but not in other countries where the virus has been detected.

Colombian Health Minister Alejandro Gaviria told The Associated Press Wednesday that researchers need to look at what may be fueling the differences in manifestations.

He gave the example of Colombia, where 20,000 cases of Zika have been confirmed but not a single case of microcephaly, or smaller than normal head size in infants.

Brazilian officials have recorded 3,670 suspected cases of microcephaly since October. Brazil’s Heath Ministry says the rare brain defect in babies has been confirmed in 404 of those cases.

Infants with microcephaly have smaller than normal heads and their brains do not develop properly.


6 p.m.

The World Health Organization says a reported case of sexually transmitted Zika virus is raising concerns.

Spokesman Gregory Hartl says WHO is organizing and supporting research about the mostly mosquito-borne virus and “under what conditions is it transmitted and via which routes other than the mosquito route.”

Speaking in Geneva on Wednesday, Hartl said that for now WHO believes nearly all of cases are caused by transmission by mosquitoes.

Zika has been linked to birth defects in the Americas. U.S. health officials say a person in Texas became infected with Zika through sex, in the first case of the illness being transmitted within the United States amid the current outbreak in Latin America.

WHO says it has not yet issued any guidance on possible prevention of sexual transmission of Zika.


5:30 p.m.

The director of the Pan American Health Organization is saying that confirmation that the Zika virus can be transmitted sexually would change the paradigm of the quickly spreading epidemic.

Carissa Etienne made the comments Wednesday in Uruguay while attending an emergency meeting of health ministers from Latin America.

Health officials in the U.S. state of Texas said Tuesday that a patient there acquired Zika through sex with an ill person who returned from Venezuela, where the virus was present. The Zika virus is usually spread through mosquito bites.

Etienne says that the Texas case has not been discussed at the summit. However, she wants to see a formal report on the case and study it further.

In her words, “Obviously it would bring a new dimension to the Zika problem.”


5:20 p.m.

Brazil’s Butantan Institute is seeking to develop a vaccine to combat the Zika virus by adapting an existing one for dengue.

The Sao Paulo-based institute is spearheading research against the Zika virus that has quickly spread throughout Brazil and the rest of Latin America.

Butantan’s Director Jorge Kalil says the technology that was developed in the Brazilian vaccine against dengue could be modified. He says one of the possibilities would be to add a gene containing a key protein in the Zika virus. Another alternative would be to create an attenuated Zika virus using a method similar to the one in the development of the dengue vaccine.

Kalil’s comments were published Wednesday on the official news agency of the Research Support Foundation of the State of Sao Paulo.


5:10 p.m.

A World Health Organization’s spokesman says it’s time for science to “step up” and tackle the “the very concerning” cases of microcephaly that could be linked to the mosquito-borne Zika virus.

Christian Lindmeier made the comments on Wednesday, a day after the U.N. health agency declared Zika a global public health emergency. No vaccine exists.

Speaking via Skype from Geneva to British broadcaster Sky News, Christian Lindmeier also urged people to “keep everything on a rational level” because “not every mosquito you see flying around on the wall is an infected mosquito.”

Zika has been linked to brain deformities in babies in Latin America. Several thousand cases of microcephaly have been reported in Brazil since October, although researchers have so far not proven a definitive link to the virus.


4 p.m.

Argentina is reporting a second person in the country is confirmed to be infected with Zika.

The health ministry in the central Cordoba province said Wednesday that the patient is a 68-year-old man who was infected abroad. He is known to have recently traveled to Venezuela’s Margarita Island. The provincial health ministry says he’s evolving well.

Argentine authorities confirmed last week that a Colombian woman who lives in Buenos Aires had been infected with the Zika virus. Officials say the 23-year-old woman became ill while in Colombia.


3 p.m.

Ireland has reported its first two cases of the mosquito-borne Zika virus but says both patients are in good condition and neither is pregnant.

Wednesday’s statement from the Health Service Executive of Ireland declined to identify either patient. The agency says both patients were unrelated, had recently returned to Ireland from countries where the virus is prevalent, and were recovering well from their fever.

Zika is not typically lethal in adults but is linked to birth defects, making the virus particularly dangerous for pregnant women.

Irish authorities say they expect to detect more Zika cases in Ireland, partly because of the substantial volume of Irish aid workers who fly back and forth from developing countries.


2:30 p.m.

France’s health minister says two French regions in the Caribbean are facing an epidemic of the Zika virus, and the government is sending extra hospital equipment and preparing extra medical staff to combat it.

Marisol Touraine told reporters Wednesday that Martinique and French Guiana have had 2,500 potential cases and about 100 confirmed Zika cases since mid-December, including 20 pregnant women and two people suffering a temporary paralysis condition called Guillain-Barre syndrome.

A few cases have been reported in Guadeloupe and Saint Martin, also part of the French Caribbean. Nine people have come to mainland France with Zika this year, but Touraine said there is no risk of epidemic on the mainland.

She said the government will expand access to testing and recommend condom use in the region.

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