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The Dorsal View

The danger of declaring the Zika emergency ‘over’

Interesting findings regarding mosquitos that carry the Zika virus were released in mid-November at the 2016 annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

It turns out that mosquitos can carry the Zika and chikungunya viruses simultaneously and can transmit both to anyone who is bitten. We all know the effects of Zika, but just in case you haven’t had the chance to bone-up on it, the symptoms of chikungunya include fever and joint pain, headache, muscle pain, joint swelling and rash.

Not much is known about the interactions between these viruses but a separate presentation at the meeting heard about a triple outbreak of Zika, chikungunya and dengue in the Brazilian city of Salvador Bahia in 2015 and concerns were expressed about the neurological complications that could be caused by this cocktail of infections. Hopefully they kept the door firmly closed on the mosquito cage.

Meanwhile, and also recently, the US FDA approved the release of genetically-engineered mosquitoes in Florida in an effort to combat the spread of Zika. The plan is that the Aedes aegypti mosquito will pass along a lethal gene to wild females that makes their offspring die before they can reach adulthood. Needless to say, Florida residents are less than delighted with being the designated ‘proving ground’ for this project.

Also in mid-November, the WHO declared the ‘end’ of the Zika international emergency. The Organisation reckons it has enough data to keep tabs on the scope of the outbreak and monitor the rates of newborn microcephaly, but the declaration means that nations are no longer compelled to report their data on Zika cases.

In essence, it changes the designation of Zika from being a public health emergency to a situation where research and prevention will suffice.

In fairness, the WHO cautions that “we are not downgrading the importance of Zika. Zika is here to stay, and the WHO’s response is here to stay”. But a lot of public health officials are concerned that aside from the lack of national data that will result, the WHO move will make it more difficult to acquire funding for further research into the virus.

Zika still has the potential to become an epidemic and of course we still don’t have effective treatment options, mosquito control or vaccines. The Organisation says its declaration should not lead to complacency, but one wonders if this is apparent to policy-makers and people who engage in risky sexual behaviour.

One also wonders if the WHO is jumping the gun on this one a little bit.

Comb all ye faithful

It probably ranks bottom of the list of rare genetic conditions in terms of importance, but if you’ve ever had or known a child whose hair seems to be totally ‘uncombable’, the answer is all in their genes, it seems.

Many of us have gone through phases with our children when their hair is so tangled that it is impervious to the influence of a comb or hair-brush. This can become a bit of an issue when head lice are involved.

Remarkably, researchers from eight different countries, including the University of Toulouse and University of Bonn, set about discovering why and found mutations in three genes and identified what they call ‘Uncontrollable hair syndrome’.

There have only been around 100 cases ‘diagnosed’ since 1973 but the authors of the study, published in the American Journal of Human Genetics, found that the genes PAD13, TGM3 and TCHH are implicated, just in case you were interested.

A very earnest Prof Regina Betz of the Institute of Human Genetics at the University of Bonn explains: “… we assume that there are much more people affected.

“Those who suffer from uncombable hair do not necessarily seek help for this from a doctor or hospital.”

She adds: “From the mutations found, a huge amount can be learned about the mechanisms involved in forming healthy hair and why disorders sometimes occur.

“At the same time, we can now secure the clinical diagnosis of ‘uncombable hair’ with molecular genetic methods.”

But if someone presents in a state of distress with ‘uncombable hair’, you can put their mind at ease — children simply grow out of it and by the time they reach adulthood, their bad hair days will be a thing of the past.

Glass half full

A man goes in to see his doctor about his general malaise with no apparent cause.

After a thorough examination, the doctor scratches his head and admits: “I am sorry, I just can’t seem to figure out what is wrong you, but I think the problem could be alcohol-related.”

“Ah, don’t worry about it doc,” says the patient. “Sure, I’ll come back when you’re sober.”

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