The Zika virus, which rose to epidemic proportions in 2015, can cause devastating congenital brain abnormalities and has been linked to Guillain-Barré syndrome, a condition in which the immune system attacks the nerves and can result in paralysis. It’s transmitted by everyone’s favorite insects, mosquitoes. (Actually, my favorite insects are dead ones.) According to the CDC, many people will have no symptoms or very mild symptoms, but for pregnant woman, the danger of passing the virus onto the fetus is high. This has had heartbreaking consequences. In a study discussed in the NY Times:
But 15 children, eight girls and seven boys, had a range of symptoms, most of which had not improved since infancy. All had severely impaired motor skills, with all but one child meeting the conditions for a diagnosis of cerebral palsy. Most had seizures and sleeping problems. Eight had been hospitalized at some point, most for bronchitis or pneumonia. Nine had difficulty eating or swallowing, which can be life-threatening because food can get stuck in the lungs or the children can be malnourished.
However, it seems the very thing that allows the Zika virus to cause such devastation in babies may be the key to a new brain cancer treatment. A new study, published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, showed that injecting the Zika virus in mice “shrank aggressive tumors… yet left other brain cells unscathed.”
Human trials are still a way off, but experts believe Zika virus could potentially be injected into the brain at the same time as surgery to remove life-threatening tumours…
Researcher Dr Michael Diamond said: “Once we add a few more changes, I think it’s going to be impossible for the virus to overcome them and cause disease.
“It looks like there’s a silver lining to Zika. This virus that targets cells that are very important for brain growth in babies, we could use that now to target growing tumours.”
From The Telegraph:
American officials rushed out a vaccine in 1976 following an outbreak of swine flu in military barracks. Around 40 million people received the vaccine but doctors reported an increase Guillain-Barre and 25 people had died before the immunisation programme was stopped…
“Guillain-Barre syndrome has long been identified as a potential adverse event that would require enhanced surveillance following the introduction of a pandemic vaccine but there is no evidence to suggest there is an increased risk of Guillain-Barre syndrome from this vaccine.”
He said there was also no increased risk of the syndrome associated with the seasonal flu vaccine.
“Establishing enhanced surveillance on Guillain-Barre syndrome has always been part of our pandemic plan because there is an increased risk of this disease after a flu-like illness…
However critics have said the fact doctors are being told to report cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome is evidence that the authorities are concerned.
Jackie Fletcher of the campaign group, Jabs, added: “What we’ve got is a massive guinea-pig trial.”
Guillain-Barre Syndrome attacks the nervous system and can cause paralysis and death. More information can be found here.
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Government agencies will need to decide soon weather or not a vaccine for the H1N1 virus will be needed this coming fall. If the virus fades, millions of dollars and resources would be wasted. Obviously, on the other hand, if the virus comes back in the fall stronger and deadlier, protection from it wouldn’t be available. A related question is weather the H1N1 virus even warrants its own vaccine.
“If [the U.S.] decided to make the vaccine investment, the administration would have to make a stronger case, at some point, why a disease that caused two deaths and less than 500 cases in the U.S. in a two-week period — with a risk not greater than seasonal flu — would warrant the multibillion dollar investment, versus other prevalent diseases such as hepatitis, cancer or [cardiovascular disease] that each caused dozens of thousand deaths and affects millions of Americans each year.”
In addition to all that, many people are wary of vaccine programs such as this after the fiasco in 1976. A small outbreak of swine flu was discovered at the Fort Dix Army Base, prompting fear that another epidemic (such as the massive one in 1918) was on the way. The government undertook a massive vaccination program that turned out pretty horribly:
“Within days reports emerged that the vaccine appeared to increase the risk for Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare neurological condition that causes temporary paralysis but can be fatal.
Waiting in long lines at schools and clinics, more than 40 million Americans — almost 25% of the population — received the swine flu vaccine before the program was halted…after 10 weeks.
More than 500 people are thought to have developed Guillain-Barre syndrome after receiving the vaccine; 25 died. No one completely understands the causes of Guillain-Barre, but the condition can develop after a bout with infection or following surgery or vaccination. The federal government paid millions in damages to people or their families.”
On top of all that, the pandemic never even materialized!
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