It turns out that Dr. Peter Hotez, the Dean of that National School for Tropical Medicine has been thinking about the interplay between Hurricane Matthew and the Aedes mosquito which spreads Zika. His informed speculations were that the Hurricane could provide an initial respite from the mosquitos, being essentially blown away by the tremendous winds. However, the enormous amount of standing water afterwards would provide ideal breeding ground for the virus carrying mosquitos.
Though the Federal government has passed a limited Zika funding measure, the bulk of the costs have fallen on States. The 1.1 billion dollars recently approved requires the development of a spending plan which the Department of Health and Human Services are required to complete by the end of the month. One hundred and fifty two million will go toward vaccine development. The rest will go to local labs to speed up testing, as well as for prevention efforts like mosquito control, and education campaigns.
Much of the press about Zika focuses rightly on its effects on pregnant women, namely microcephaly and other severe effects on the fetal and neonatal brain and nervous system. However, Zika virus effects non- pregnant women and men by increasing their chances of Guillain Barre Syndrome, post viral paralysis. In the recent new wave of such patients, 97% of these patients had symptoms of Zika 4 weeks prior, further cinching the relationship of the virus to the syndrome even further.
At least 808 pregnant American women have Zika. It is likely that there are many more since the infection can be asymptomatic, and testing results are much delayed. Physicians and Institutions are trying to ready themselves for the increase in special needs children which will come as a result of the Zika epidemic.
New Zika recommendations indicate that both men and women wait six months to get pregnant after Zika exposure.
In other virus related news, studies have shown that parents are more likely to ask for HPV ( Human Papilloma Virus) vaccine to be given to their children if their child’s caregiver discusses it with them in a certain way. In particular, if caregivers highlight the parent’s role in preventing HPV infection, parents are more likely to agree to the administration of the vaccine. HPV vaccine is grossly underutilized. Researchers and physicians are trying to increase HPV vaccine utilization rates by funding the vaccine with others and by giving it in school based programs. HPV is a virus which causes serious and sometimes fatal disease processes ( cervical cancer) for which there is an effective vaccine. Yet many will not utilize it. Once we are fortunate enough to have a Zika vaccine, I wonder if some will decline that too.
Speaking of inadequate utilization of vaccine, over half of millennials do NOT plan to get the flu vaccine this year. Half of these people do not believe it is effective and 29% think it will give them the flu. The data do not bear out these concerns.
Here is some bad news that is, at the same time, interesting and useful. First, people in most modern countries gain weight during the holidays. The amount and time frame varies by country. In the US, our weight is at its lowest in October, right after summer, and increases in the ten days preceding the holidays. It appears that holiday related weight gain, regardless of country, takes about FIVE months to lose. That’s right people, gain it in ten days, lose it over five months.
In other bad but fascinating and hopefully helpful news, stress contributes to aging in a very particular and profound way. A large human DNA study has demonstrated that “ adverse events in childhood ...hasten …telomere tear down." I once read telomeres are the protective shoelace tips to our DNA shoelaces. Telomeres keep DNA from fraying as it were, and this prevents premature aging. They were able to determine that each significant stressful event in a person’s life increases the risk of shorter telomeres by 11 percent. DNA codes for what we are… in a very immediate tissue sense of the word. Damaged DNA leads to all kinds of diseases including cancer, and basically the failure to heal and renew properly. We have to start taking the prevention of childhood stress much more seriously.
State Medicaid expansions are most costly than previously anticipated. This is because more qualifying patients have signed up, and they are sicker than had been anticipated. This should be cause for increasing the funding to the expansions, says this fiscal conservative. Why ? It is because preventive care and treatment that is earlier rather than later ALWAYS is cheaper in the long run. Never mind that it is more humane and the ethical thing to do.
Stay tuned for more fascinating news from the world of Obstetrics and Gynecology, next week, on Medical Mondays.