Thailand investigates four cases of suspected Zika-linked microcephaly

A city worker fumigates the area to control the spread of mosquitoes at a university in Bangkok, Thailand,

By Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Pracha Hariraksapitak

BANGKOK, Sept 27 (Reuters) – Thailand is investigating four suspected cases of Zika-related microcephaly in three babies and a 36-week old unborn baby, the public health minister said on
Tuesday, in what could be the first cases of Zika-linked microcephaly in Southeast Asia.

Several countries in Southeast Asia have reported increasing cases of infection from the mosquito-borne Zika virus but Thailand has one of the highest numbers in the region, with 349 confirmed since January, including 25 pregnant women.

Public Health Minister Piyasakon Sakolsatayadorn said authorities needed to be thorough in their investigation of the cases as confirmation would be “sensitive.”

“The lab results will take at least two days because we have to be thorough with this as it is a big deal and a link hasn’t been detected before,” Piyasakon told Reuters.

“This is a sensitive matter for Thailand,” he said.

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.

Piyasakon said the three babies were born with small heads and an ultrasound appeared to indicate the unborn baby had a small head.

Of the four mothers, two were diagnosed with Zika when they were pregnant but two were not confirmed to have had Zika, said Apichai Mongkol, director-general of the ministry’s Department of Medical Sciences.

If a Thai case were confirmed, it would be the first in Southeast Asia, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a statement emailed to Reuters.

The connection between Zika and microcephaly first came to light last year in Brazil, which has confirmed more than 1,600 cases of microcephaly that it considers to be related to Zika infections in the mothers.


Some health experts have accused Thailand, which has a thriving tourist industry, of playing down the risk from Zika.

But officials dismiss that saying the response has been adequate and another mosquito-born disease, dengue, which can be deadly, is a bigger threat.

The director-general of Thailand’s Disease Control Department, Amnuay Gajeena, said the four cases were being
monitored but he declined to say exactly where they were suspected of contracting the virus.

“It is not in Bangkok,” Amnuay told Reuters. “Both the mothers and babies are being tested and we have sent the tests to several labs.”

There are no specific tests to determine if a baby will be born with microcephaly, but ultrasound scans in the third trimester of pregnancy can identify the problem, according to the WHO.

The World Health Organization lists Singapore, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam as countries
reporting new cases of Zika.

Singapore has recorded 393 cases since diagnosing its first in August. It has confirmed 16 pregnant women with the virus.

The WHO has also said there is strong scientific consensus that Zika can also cause Guillain-Barre, a rare neurological syndrome that causes temporary paralysis in adults.

According to the WHO, there are two major lineages of Zika – an African lineage, which has only been reported in Africa, where the virus was first discovered in 1947, and an Asian lineage of strains.

There is no vaccine or treatment for Zika, which is a close cousin of dengue and chikungunya and causes mild fever, rash and red eyes. An estimated 80 percent of people infected have no symptoms, making it difficult for pregnant women to know whether they have been infected.

(Additional reporting by Cod Satrusayang and Panarat
Thepgumpanat in BANGKOK, Marius Zaharia in SINGAPORE; Writing by
Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Robert Birsel)

FDA issues emergency authorization for ZIKA test

(Reuters) – Vela Diagnostics said its test for the Zika virus had received “emergency use authorization” from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The test, already approved in Europe, is validated for plasma, serum and urine samples, the Singapore-based company said on Monday.

The FDA issues such emergency use authorization during public health emergencies, to quickly deploy unapproved medical products for as long as they are needed.

The regulator last month issued a similar authorization for a Zika diagnostics test from Swiss drugmaker Roche.

Zika, which was detected in Brazil, has spread to the Americas and is associated with microcephaly, a birth defect characterized by an unusually small head and potential developmental problems.

In adults, it has been linked to Guillain-Barre syndrome, a temporary paralysis.

The disease has since spread to parts of Southeast Asia.

(Reporting by Akankshita Mukhopadhyay and Natalie Grover in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila)

Florida declares neighborhood Zika free; CDC remains cautious

Florida Gov. Rick Scott speaks at a press conference about the Zika virus in Doral, Florida,

By Julie Steenhuysen and Ransdell Pierson

(Reuters) – U.S. health officials on Monday continued to advise pregnant women and their partners to consider postponing non-essential travel to Miami to avoid the risk of exposure to Zika, even as Florida Governor Rick Scott declared the city’s Wynwood neighborhood Zika-free and invited visitors to return.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement that the Wynwood neighborhood of Miami had been considered an area of active Zika virus transmission from June 15 to Sept. 18, 2016. It urged pregnant women who lived in or traveled to the neighborhood to consider getting tested for Zika.

“We want to continue to emphasize to pregnant women that they still should consider postponing non-essential travel for all of Miami-Dade (County). That is still in effect,” said CDC spokesman Tom Skinner.

Wynwood is the first neighborhood in the continental United States to have a local outbreak of Zika, a mosquito-borne virus that has been shown to cause birth defects.

Florida’s governor, at a news conference earlier on Monday, said there have not been any cases of Zika in the Wynwood neighborhood in the past 45 days, and declared that “everybody should be coming back here and enjoying themselves.”

“We had an issue, everybody took it seriously and we solved it,” he said.

Scott’s pronouncement followed news on Friday that the state had expanded the zone with active Zika transmission to nearby Miami Beach after five new cases of the virus were detected.

The Zika zone in Miami Beach, a popular tourist destination, tripled in size, growing from 1.5 square miles to 4.5 square miles. As of Friday, Florida has a total of 93 cases of Zika caused by local mosquitoes.

Zika is a particular threat to pregnant women because the virus can cause serious birth defects in babies whose mothers were infected during pregnancy, including microcephaly, a condition in which the brain is undersized, reflecting arrested development.

Scott also called on the U.S. government to approve spending to arrest any future spread of the virus in Florida and elsewhere, including funds for mosquito abatement, education and testing for Zika. A spending bill has been delayed in Congress.

(Reporting by Colleen Jenkins, Julie Steenhuysen and Ransdell Pierson; Editing by Dan Grebler)

Study confirms ZIKA causes brain birth defects, questions remain

Physiotherapist Leal does exercises with Lucas, 4-months old, who is Miriam Araujo's second child and born with microcephaly in Pedro I hospital in Campina

By Kate Kelland

LONDON, Sept 15 (Reuters) – Early results from a crucial case-control study in Brazil have confirmed a direct causal link between Zika virus infection in pregnant women and the brain damaging birth defect microcephaly in their babies, scientists said on Thursday.

But while preliminary findings from the first 32 cases involved in the study confirm causality, the researchers said, the true size of the effect will become clear only after full analysis of all 200 cases and 400 controls.

The study, published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal, was requested by the Brazilian health ministry to investigate the causes of the microcephaly epidemic that the World Health Organization (WHO) declared an international public health emergency earlier this year.

The outbreak of Zika, a mosquito-borne disease, was detected last year in Brazil, where it has been linked to more than 1,700 cases of microcephaly, a birth defect marked by small head size that can lead to severe developmental problems. The virus has since spread rapidly through the Americas and Caribbean.

While the WHO and other disease experts had said there was strong scientific consensus that Zika and microcephaly were linked, evidence until now has been largely circumstantial.


Laura Rodrigues, a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who worked on this study, said its results were “the missing pieces in the jigsaw” proving the link.

The research followed and compared pregnancies that resulted in healthy babies with those that resulted in cases of microcephaly – looking for signs that the Zika virus is passed onto fetuses who develop the defect.

It covered all babies born with microcephaly delivered in eight public hospitals in Brazil’s north-eastern Pernambuco State between January 15 and May 2 this year. For each case, two controls were added. These were the first two babies born the following morning without microcephaly in one of the hospitals.

After taking samples and conducting brain scans, the researchers found that 41 percent of mothers of babies with microcephaly tested positive for Zika infection in blood or cerebrospinal fluid samples, compared with none of those whose babies did not have microcephaly.

A high proportion of mothers of both microcephaly and non-microcephaly babies also tested positive for another mosquito-borne virus, dengue fever, as well as other infections such as herpes, rubella and toxoplasma.

“Our findings suggest Zika virus should be officially added to the list of congenital infections,” said Thália Velho Barreto de Araújo of Brazil’s Pernambuco University, who also worked on the research team. “However, many questions still remain to be answered – including the role of previous dengue infection.”

Rodrigues warned that preliminary analyzes should be viewed with some caution, since they can overestimate the strength of a link. “When complete, the study, along with other ongoing research, will provide vital information on any role co-factors might have in the epidemic,” she said.

(Editing by Ralph Boulton)


For one Zika patient, lingering symptoms and few answers

Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are seen at the Laboratory of Entomology and Ecology of the Dengue Branch of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in San Juan

By Nick Brown

SAN JUAN (Reuters) – It began with what felt like a punch in the throat.

I assumed it was irritation from the cigar I’d smoked on my deck that afternoon in mid-June. But the sensation hung on. Within three days, I had a 102-degree Fahrenheit (38.9 degrees Celsius) fever, chills and bed-drenching night sweats.

For two weeks, symptoms came in waves. A skin rash. Joint pain. Then a dull throbbing behind my eyes. There was pain and redness too, in a certain exclusively male region, which ibuprofen didn’t relieve.

Then, I felt better. But a week later, the symptoms staged a comeback, with more eye pain and something new – small welts on my eyelids and temples. I had sporadic headaches, was so exhausted I slept 10 hours a night and even failed to wake up for a flight.

My mother was the first to suspect I was infected with the virus that arrived in Puerto Rico in December 2015, four months after I’d begun an assignment as Reuters’ San Juan bureau chief.

Initially, I laughed off her internet diagnosis as the overwrought worries of a long-distance mom. But I agreed to see my long-time physician during a visit home in late June.

After listening to my symptoms and learning I’d been working in San Juan, Dr. Kevin Wallace of Murray Hill Medical Group called the New York City Health Department and arranged to have my blood sent for screening. Eight days later, I got the news.

Mom was right. I had Zika.

Reuters journalist Nick Brown works at his laptop at a cafe in San Juan, Puerto Rico,

Reuters journalist Nick Brown works at his laptop at a cafe in San Juan, Puerto Rico, August 8, 2016. Picture taken August 8, 2016. REUTERS/Alvin Baez


Hundreds of thousands of people are estimated to have been infected with Zika in the Americas since the virus was detected in Brazil early last year. Most have no symptoms or experience only a mild illness.

But it can penetrate the womb in pregnant women, causing a rare but crippling birth defect known as microcephaly. In adults, it has been linked to Guillain-Barre syndrome, a temporary paralysis. And it can be passed on through sex, a unique characteristic among mosquito-borne viruses. There is no vaccine or treatment.

Last month, the U.S. government declared a public health emergency in Puerto Rico, the hardest hit among states and territories. More than 17,800 infections have been reported on the island, including more than 1,500 among pregnant women, and one case of microcephaly in an aborted fetus.

As a journalist and a patient, I’ve had access to some of the brightest minds studying Zika. But the virus has confounded experts at the highest levels and launched a global race to understand its risks.

Each month, new findings have led to changes in how the public is advised to stay safe. Compared to what we know about other diseases, such as flu and even Ebola, we are in new territory.

In my case, doctors were hard-pressed to explain why my symptoms returned about three weeks after the initial infection. Nor could they tell me how long I could be at risk for Guillain-Barre. Another mystery: were condoms enough to protect against sexual transmission?

In the weeks since I’ve recovered, that is proving to be one of the toughest questions to live with.

Both men and women can infect their sexual partners. In one case, scientists identified Zika virus in semen six months after the man’s symptoms appeared, though it’s not clear how long it can cause new infections.

Public health officials have warned couples not to conceive for at least six months after either a man or woman returns from a Zika outbreak area, even if they show no symptoms.

My wife and I, both in our early 30s, have had to consider how dangerous my bout with Zika could be to our plans to have children some day.

Our most intimate decisions now are affected by the uncertainty surrounding Zika: how long can I infect my partner? How likely is it that my baby would become sick if I do? Given how rapidly the expertise about Zika has evolved so far, how much faith should we put in the current thinking?


When I took the one-year post in Puerto Rico, I figured my biggest health risk would be sunburn.

Even when Zika began circulating on the island, I didn’t worry. My wife Julie, a lawyer and publishing industry pro, had decided to stay at home in Brooklyn during my assignment, and we weren’t planning to have kids for at least a couple of years. So we gave Zika little more than a shoulder shrug.

I’m not sure when I was infected. I picked up more mosquito bites in San Juan than Twitter followers. I didn’t always use bug spray. I worked from home, an apartment in a colonial building without window screens, and kept the deck doors open to save money on air conditioning.

Locals are used to mosquito-borne illnesses, including dengue and chikungunya. Some, more concerned about pesticides than Zika, successfully fought aerial spraying with Naled. Many also are concerned about Zika’s threat to tourism, which could compound the island’s vast economic challenges.

One friend grew indignant when I mentioned writing this piece. “You’re a journalist,” she said. “You have a responsibility not to perpetuate hysteria.”

When I got sick, I didn’t consider going to a doctor in Puerto Rico. The economic crisis has made medical care unpredictable, and the waits are long. When I sought treatment for allergic reactions earlier in my stay, doctors refused my corporate health insurance and demanded cash.

Instead, I waited a few days to see Dr. Wallace during my visit to New York. I was his second potential Zika patient, though the first ultimately tested negative for the virus.

Eight days after my blood sample was submitted, a woman from the city health department called.

Have you heard from your doctor? she asked.


“Oh?” she said. “You haven’t spoken to your doctor at all?”

I broke a long pause, saying, “Feel free to let the cat out of the bag.”

“Well,” she said, “you tested positive for Zika.”

The way it is supposed to work, the results are sent to the patient’s doctor in time to break the news before the city “interviewer” calls to address public health concerns. But Dr. Jay Varma, deputy commissioner of the New York City Health Department, acknowledged that doesn’t always happen.


Some friends in Puerto Rico teased me when they learned I had Zika. Many of them had experienced chikungunya or dengue, and had stories about months of muscle pain or weeks in bed. Friends from the states, on the other hand, showed grave concern, offering thoughts, prayers and condolences. Some kept their distance for weeks. A few questioned whether it was safe for me to be around babies.

The evidence shows Zika clears the bloodstream quickly, and the virus doesn’t spread through casual interactions.

Julie and I weren’t quite sure how to react. We didn’t take it too seriously at first. I posted a glamour-shot selfie on Facebook with the caption: “This is the face of a man with Zika.”

As the weeks passed, it became clear that Julie and I were also a little rattled – and not fully on the same page. She canceled a planned long weekend visit to Puerto Rico. She wanted to minimize her exposure to Zika and arranged instead for us to meet in Florida.

This disappointed me. I had hoped to show her my new favorite places on the island. I clung stubbornly to the view that Zika fears were largely overblown. She reminded me that, given the unknowns about Zika’s impact on pregnancy, I was in no position to call the shots.

“Try to see it from a woman’s perspective,” she said.

We have heard a lot of different things about Zika, even from doctors, and she doesn’t totally trust the idea that the virus is manageable with the current medical advice.

What if Zika poses a threat for months or years after infection? If so, could that jeopardize our future plans to start a family? What if we got pregnant before we planned to?

We’ve had to manage our different anxieties over the “what ifs” of Zika.


There’s plenty the experts are still figuring out, and that has been reflected in the shifting opinions about my case.

Ingrid Rabe, an epidemiologist with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told me Zika generally lasts a few days. While she couldn’t address my specific case, she speculated that a return of symptoms like mine could indicate the presence of a second virus.

A few weeks later, Dr. Varma told me it was possible, in severe cases, for symptoms to last longer or recur.

Of three acquaintances in Puerto Rico who developed Zika, all have complained, like me, of lingering health problems, in one case for longer than a month.

Two weeks into my infection, Dr. Wallace couldn’t tell me whether I remained at risk for Guillain-Barre. The city health interviewer, after consulting with doctors, told me the paralyzing condition would most likely have set in within days of Zika infection, so I was probably out of the woods.

Again, the information shifted over time. The CDC’s Rabe later told me it could take “a few weeks” for Guillain-Barre to appear. So far, I haven’t had any symptoms consistent with Guillain-Barre, and here’s hoping it stays that way.

Guidance on sex lacked precision as well. The city health interviewer recommended we “use condoms every time” for six months, reflecting CDC guidelines.

When I asked whether Zika can spread via saliva or oral sex, the city health interviewer didn’t answer directly. She said it can spread via “sexual activity,” and that saliva is “currently not being tested.” Rabe later told me “there’s been no evidence” that saliva can spread Zika.

The city health interviewer asked if I would join a CDC study gauging how long Zika can be spread through semen and urine. I’m one of 140 participants, though protocol calls for up to 250.

The study is a bit awkward. But, as a writer always looking for a good story, I could not pass it up.

Every two weeks, a study test kit arrives by FedEx in a box with dauntingly detailed instructions on how to produce and package my samples, then overnight them back to the center’s Colorado lab. I also answer a somewhat blush-inducing questionnaire about my recent sexual activity.

The CDC staffer assigned to my case sends cheery emails to let me know she has received my samples and sex report, an interaction that feels slightly too intimate. But I endure it in exchange for a $50 Visa gift card for each sample, and, more importantly, for the chance to learn and to contribute to science.

The downside: I don’t learn my results until the study ends in December.

(Reporting by Nick Brown; Editing by Michele Gershberg and Lisa Girion)

Doctors say Haiti ripe for large Zika outbreak, virus under: reported

Residents in Haiti

By Makini Brice

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) – Posters warning of the dangers of Zika only reached Haiti’s health ministry in August, six months after the country reported an outbreak, in one example of delayed prevention efforts that have health experts worried a “large epidemic” is looming.

Gabriel Thimothe, a senior health ministry official, said the public service posters would be distributed to hospitals and airports shortly, but that health funding had been cut this year and foreign aid was sparse to fight the mosquito-borne virus that can cause severe birth defects.

Zika infections in pregnant women have been shown to cause microcephaly – a defect in which babies’ heads and brains are undersized – as well as other brain abnormalities.

Widespread fumigation that has limited the virus’ spread in other Caribbean nations such as Cuba only began in Haiti last month. Publicity campaigns have been all but invisible and hospital workers were on strike for much of the year.

“We’re expecting a large epidemic but we don’t know when it will occur,” said Jean-Luc Poncelet, the World Health Organization’s representative in Haiti. “There is under-reporting.”

Such an epidemic could severely strain Haiti’s fragile healthcare system, battered by an earthquake in 2010 that killed 300,000, and still struggling with a cholera epidemic that has sickened nearly 800,000 people.

WHO data show 5,000 suspected cases have been reported in more prosperous neighbor Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti and has a similar population and climate. Haiti by contrast, has reported 3,000 suspected cases, according to numbers shared by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That makes Haiti’s Zika infection rate about 30 per 100,000 people, compared to 82 per 100,000 in Brazil, where the connection between Zika and microcephaly was first detected, and 50 per 100,000 in Dominican Republic

The connection between Zika and microcephaly first came to light last fall in Brazil, which has since confirmed more than 1,800 cases of microcephaly.


In the Dominican Republic there were spikes in infections in March and May, broadly coinciding with rainy seasons on both sides of the island, a time when mosquitoes and diseases they carry normally flourish. In Haiti, the number of cases reported each week generally dropped from February through the rains.

A long strike by medical residents at most public hospitals coincided with that decline, raising the question of whether there were fewer infections or a lack of health workers available to register cases.

A Zika task force, which includes the government and non-governmental organizations, was formed in May, Thimothe said. Several U.S. health officials in Haiti told Reuters that the United States provided $3 million in August to combat Zika in the country, money that was initially intended to be deployed against Ebola in West Africa.

Thimothe said the impact of an explosion of microcephaly cases would be devastating, but denied the condition was more widespread than thought, even though many Haitian women give birth at home rather than in clinics.

His position is supported by WHO data through June, which did not show an uptick in microcephaly or Guillain-Barre syndrome, a neurological disorder that can cause temporary paralysis and has also been linked to Zika.

But Louise Ivers, the senior health and policy advisor for Partners in Health, which along with Haitian organization Zanmi Lasante runs a hospital in the central town of Mirebalais, said she had seen at least 12 cases this year of Guillain-Barre, normally a rare condition.

The same hospital registered two microcephaly cases, including one confirmed to be linked to Zika, this summer.

“Maybe we are too late for prevention. Maybe we just have to manage the consequences,” Ivers said. “This could just be the tip of the iceberg.”

(Additional reporting by Joseph Guyler Delva; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Alistair Bell)

U.S. lawmakers seek compromise on Zika virus funding

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. lawmakers sought on Wednesday to break a logjam over $1.1 billion in funding to combat the Zika virus, with the Senate possibly considering legislation as soon as next week, even as one congressman toted a jar full of mosquitoes to the House floor to condemn congressional inaction.

“Can you imagine the fears and anxieties if the mosquitoes were not in this jar?” Florida Republican David Jolly told his colleagues as he brandished the container holding about 100 of the insects in the House of Representatives chamber.

“Members of Congress would run down the hall to the physician’s office to be tested,” added Jolly, whose state is the first in the nation with local transmission of the mosquito-borne virus that has spread through the Americas.

The potential Senate Zika measure could advance as part of a broader legislative effort to temporarily keep federal agencies operating in the 2017 fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

Republicans and Democrats huddled separately in closed meetings in both the Senate and House to see if they could reach a compromise during a 19-day work session this month, before lawmakers break for a recess in the weeks before the Nov. 8 U.S. election. Lawmakers returned to work this week after a seven-week summer recess.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters he was in talks with Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid.

“We’re looking for a way forward. And I’m hopeful and optimistic that we’ll be able to do that,” McConnell, a Republican, said of both a temporary agency funding bill and Zika money.

In February, President Barack Obama asked Congress to approve $1.9 billion in emergency funds to deal with the Zika virus, which can cause severe birth defects when pregnant women become infected.

Since then, both parties have backed $1.1 billion as the funding figure. But fights over side issues related to abortion and Obama’s signature healthcare law have bitterly divided the two parties.

One of the biggest controversies involves Democrats’ opposition to language, backed by Republicans, that they say would prevent Zika funds for abortion providers like Planned Parenthood, mainly in Puerto Rico.

The Miami Herald on Tuesday quoted Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, who chairs a Senate panel overseeing healthcare funding, suggesting the Planned Parenthood language might have to be dropped in order to reach a deal.

Aides to both senators declined to confirm or deny the accuracy of the quotes.

Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine, asked by Reuters whether she thought Planned Parenthood funding restrictions should be eliminated from Zika legislation, said: “That would be my preference.”

Still, some Republicans were resisting a deal that would abandon the Planned Parenthood language in the Zika bill.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell; Editing by Will Dunham)

Zika virus found in tears of mice – U.S. study

CHICAGO (Reuters) – A new study has found genetic fragments of Zika in the eyes and the tears of laboratory mice infected with the virus, a finding that offers a potential new route of human infection.

“Our study suggests that the eye could be a reservoir for Zika virus,” said Dr. Michael Diamond of Washington University St. Louis, whose paper was published in the journal Cell Reports.

“We need to consider whether people with Zika have infectious virus in their eyes and how long it actually persists.”

For the study, the team infected adult mice under the skin, resembling the way people get infected by mosquito bites, and found live virus in the eyes a week later. When tested 28 days later, the tears of infected mice contained genetic material from the virus, but not infectious virus.

The researchers said their findings raise the possibility that Zika could be spread through contact with the tears of infected people, but said that would have to be proven.

“We are planning studies in people to find out whether infectious virus persists in the cornea or other compartments of the eye, because that would have implications for corneal transplantation,” said Dr. Rajendra Apte, a senior author of the study. Other blood-borne viruses such as herpes simplex virus have been transmitted accidentally through corneal transplants.

Although principally spread by mosquitoes, Zika has been shown to persist in sites of the body where the immune system is less active, including semen, vaginal fluid, saliva and now, possibly, tears.

That could help account for why Zika has spread so quickly, outpacing what might be expected if the virus were only carried by mosquitoes, Diamond said. “Sexual transmission is probably not playing a major role, but it could be some other bodily fluid – saliva, or urine or tears,” he said.

Zika infections in pregnant women have been shown to cause microcephaly – a severe birth defect in which the head and brain are undersized – as well as other brain abnormalities. The connection between Zika and microcephaly first came to light last fall in Brazil, which has since confirmed more than 1,800 cases of microcephaly.

In adults, Zika infections have also been linked to a rare neurological syndrome known as Guillain-Barre, as well as other neurological disorders.

(Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Tropical Storm Hermine pounds into the Carolinas

Three storm systems are shown (L TO R) Tropical Depression Nine to the southeast of Florida,

By Letitia Stein

TAMPA, Fla., Sept 2 (Reuters) – Hurricane Hermine wreaked havoc across Florida on Friday, causing widespread power outages and flooding before diminishing into a tropical storm and plowing up the Atlantic Coast into the Carolinas with a still-potent mix of high winds and heavy rains.

The first hurricane to make landfall in Florida in 11 years Hermine swept ashore early on Friday near the Gulf shore town of St. Marks, 20 miles (30 km) south of the capital of Tallahassee, packing winds of 80 mph (130 kph) and churning up a devastating storm surge in coastal areas.

Torrential downpours and high surf left parts of some communities under water early Friday, with mandatory evacuations ordered in parts of five northwestern Florida counties.

State officials said electricity had been knocked out to nearly 300,000 homes and businesses by afternoon.

One storm-related death was reported by authorities in the northern Florida town of Ocala, where a fallen tree killed a homeless man sleeping in his tent.

Hermine was expected to snarl Labor Day holiday travel as it churned northeast for several more days after battering Florida’s $89 billion tourism industry.

While maximum sustained winds had weakened to 50 mph (80 kph), the tempest headed to the Atlantic seaboard along a path inhabited by tens of millions of Americans, prompting storm
watches and warnings as far north as Rhode Island.

As of 9 p.m. EDT (0100 GMT), the fourth named storm of the 2016 Atlantic hurricane season was passing near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, leaving some 51,000 power outages across the state, said state emergency management spokesman Derrec Becker.

Becker said localized flooding hit low-lying areas across the state, and there were widespread reports of “downed power lines, downed trees, trees on cars and some flooded cars,” along with isolated incidents of tree-damaged homes.

One mobile home was virtually sliced in two by a fallen tree, but authorities had no reports of serious storm-related injuries or fatalities, Becker added.

Likewise, emergency officials reported no storm deaths in Georgia, which Hermine swept through on its way to South Carolina, but said at least 100,000 utility customers were
without power at one point.

Emergency declarations remained in effect for all or parts of Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland.


The storm was projected to creep north along the Carolina coast Friday night, then gather strength after moving offshore into the Atlantic on Saturday morning, possibly reaching near-hurricane intensity by late Sunday, according to the National Hurricane Center.

In addition to powerful winds extending up to 185 miles (295 km) from its center, Hermine was expected to unleash a dangerous storm surge in the Hampton Roads area of tidewater Virginia, where flooding could become 3 to 5 feet deep, the NHC warned.

The storm also could douse several southeastern and mid-Atlantic states with up to 15 inches (38 cm) of rain through Sunday, the agency said.

New Jersey, still mindful of devastation from superstorm Sandy in 2012, was on high alert as emergency officials advised residents to prepare for flooding, high winds and a surge of

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Friday activated his state’s emergency operations center and ordered officials to stockpile resources, including sandbags and generators.

New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio said residents should avoid beach waters for fear of life-threatening riptides. “I say that to people who go the beach, I say that to surfers: Don’t even think about it,” De Blasio told reporters.

In Florida, concerns over the standing water in which mosquitoes breed intensified as the state battled an outbreak of the Zika virus.

“It is incredibly important that everyone does their part to combat the Zika virus by dumping standing water, no matter how small,” Florida Governor Rick Scott told a news conference.

Overnight, crews in Pasco County, Florida, rescued more than a dozen people after their homes were flooded.

Richard Jewett, 68, was rescued from his home in New PortRichey, just north of Tampa, as emergency teams carried out amandatory evacuation.

“The canal started creeping up toward the house, and even though it wasn’t high tide it looked like it was coming inside,” Jewett said.

(Additional reporting by Zachary Fagenson in Hudson Beach,
Fla., Steve Gorman in Los Angeles, Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee,
Laila Kearney in New York and Jon Herskovitz in Austin; Editing
by Daniel Trotta and Cynthia Osterman)

Hermine tears through Florida, raises new Zika fears

Robert Long and his son J.D. watch workers removing downed trees during cleanup operations in the aftermath of Hurricane Hermine in Tallahassee

By Letitia Stein

TAMPA, Fla. (Reuters) – Hurricane Hermine tore a path of destruction across Florida on Friday, knocking out power for 253,000 customers, flooding low-lying areas and raising concerns about the spread of the Zika virus from pools of standing water left behind.

The first hurricane to make landfall in Florida in more than a decade, Hermine came ashore early on Friday near St. Marks, Florida, 20 miles (30 km) south of the capital of Tallahassee, packing winds of 80 mph (130 kph) and churning up a devastating storm surge in coastal areas.

Hermine, which has since been downgraded to a tropical storm, was set to snarl U.S. Labor Day holiday travel as it moves northeast after battering Florida’s $89 billion tourism industry.

The storm center was on the border between Georgia and South Carolina at 2 p.m.(1800 GMT), the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

A huge pine tree is shown after falling through a home from the wind and rain damage of Hurricane Hermine in Tallahassee, Florida

A huge pine tree is shown after falling through a home from the wind and rain damage of Hurricane Hermine in Tallahassee, Florida September 2, 2016. REUTERS/Phil Sears REUTERS/Phil Sears


Though sustained winds had weakened to 50 mph (80 kph), the tempest headed toward the Atlantic seaboard on a path where tens of millions of Americans live, causing storm watches and warnings stretching to Rhode Island, NHC said.

It could strengthen again over water and possibly bring up to 15 inches (38 cm) of rain to the southeastern and mid-Atlantic states over the next 48 hours, with heavy rainfall possibly hitting coastal Delaware and New Jersey starting on Saturday night, the center said.

New Jersey, still mindful of the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, was on high alert as emergency officials advised people to prepare for flooding, high winds and a surge of seawater.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Friday activated his state’s emergency operations center and advised emergency officials to stockpile resources, including sandbags and generators.

As it tracks north offshore towards New York, the storm is projected to stall at sea through Wednesday morning, the National Hurricane Center said.

New York Mayor Bill De Blasio said residents should avoid beach waters for fear of life-threatening riptides caused by the lingering storm. “I say that to people who go the beach, I say that to surfers: Don’t even think about it,” De Blasio told a news conference.


In Florida, concerns over the standing water in which mosquitoes breed intensified as the state battles an outbreak of the Zika virus.

“It is incredibly important that everyone does their part to combat the Zika virus by dumping standing water, no matter how small,” Florida Governor Rick Scott told a news conference, also warning people to look for downed power lines and avoid driving in standing water pools.

There have been 47 cases of Zika in people believed to have contracted the virus through local mosquitoes, according to the Florida Department of Health. Active transmission is thought to be occurring in two small areas around Miami.

As the sun rose on Friday morning on Hudson Beach, just north of Tampa, cars sat askew in flooded roads. Palm fronds, tree branches and garbage cans were scattered about.

Overnight, Pasco County crews rescued more than a dozen people after their homes were flooded.

Richard Jewett, 68, was rescued from his home in New Port Richey, just north of Tampa, around 1:30 a.m. EDT (0530 GMT) as emergency workers carried out a mandatory evacuation.

“The canal started creeping up toward the house and even though it wasn’t high tide it looked like it was coming inside,” Jewett said.

In Cedar Key, an island community in northwest Florida, waters rose more than 9.5 feet (2.9 meters), among the highest surges ever seen, the National Weather Service said.

“This is one of the worst that we have seen in the city in a long time, and unfortunately, it is not over yet,” St. Petersburg, Florida, Mayor Rick Kriseman told reporters.

(Additional reporting by Zachary Fagenson in Hudson Beach, Fla., Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, Laila Kearney in New York and Jon Herskovitz in Austin; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Cynthia Osterman)