Archives for July 2016

Jul
30
2016

LED Streetlights Can Be Harmful

The American Medical Association (AMA) has just released a new policy recommendation and statement that LED streetlights can be harmful. After meticulous reviews of the research on the effect of white LED streetlights and their effect on health the AMA decided that it needed to publish its recommendations so that city fathers have some guidelines for illuminating their cities.

Cost and energy savings from white streetlights

Many cities in the US have already switched from the yellowish traditional streetlights to the high-intensity LED lighting. This was done unilaterally without consulting of health professionals or the public. The cities wanted to save money by using white LED lights. But as we will discover below there are serious health consequences to this.

Historic lighting solutions

We did not always have streetlights. The intensity of light is measured by the Kelvin units (K). The color composition is called the “color temperature” (CT). Before electricity was invented we burnt candles and wood at night. This produced a light of 1800 K, which was yellow and red with hardly any blue. Next came incandescent light bulbs. They have a color temperature of 2400 K, which contains less blue and more yellow and red. The new light source is the LED light, which contains a lot more blue color and appears to us as white light. The color temperature is around 4000 K to 5000 K.

LED streetlights can be harmful to your health

Who would have thought that switching streetlights could have anything to do with your health? The newest LED street lights are emitting large amounts of blue light. Our eyes perceive this as white light, but it also creates night-time glare, much more so than conventional lighting. Eye discomfort from blue-rich LED lighting can interfere with visual acuity and cause road hazards. However, this is not all. The blue-rich LED streetlights happen to operate at the wavelength that suppresses melatonin during the night. It has been estimated that the white LED lamps cause interference with the important circadian sleep rhythm. This effect is much stronger with the white LED lights compared to the conventional streetlights. The interference with the sleep rhythm means that there is less sleep time. Sleep quality is perceived to be unsatisfactory. There is daytime sleepiness and impaired daytime functioning. White light LED lights can even cause obesity.

Animals can also be affected by white LED light. The bright outdoor LED lights disturb many species that need a dark environment. Poorly designed LED lighting disorients some birds. Insects, turtles and certain fish species have also been found to be disturbed in their habitat by white LED lights. US national parks have adopted lighting designs that reduce the effects of light pollution on wildlife. So far nobody has shown any concern, what light pollution does to humans!

AMA guidelines to reduce impact of white LED lights

The AMA has come out with new guidelines to help reduce the impact of white LED light. Instead of high-intensity white streetlights the AMA recommends to communities to use the lowest emission of blue light possible to reduce glare. The AMA has recommended a color temperature of no more than 3000 K. This type of light has more of a mix of blue, green, yellow and red in it and very little white. In contrast the CT of bright LED streetlights have 4000 K to 5000 K. This contains a lot of blue light, which appears as white to the eye. Seattle and New York belong to the cities that recently had their streetlights retrofitted to the white LED streetlights. According to the AMA guidelines these lights should now be refitted again. The AMA also recommends that the lights should be shielded to minimize glare and the detrimental effect on humans and the environment. There should also be a possibility of dimming the lights in off-peak periods.

Evidence from medical literature that LED streetlights can be harmful

Here I am reviewing what has been found in the medical literature about white LED lighting that is now preferably used in street lighting.

  1. A Chinese lab tested epithelial cell lines derived from human lenses under a variety of light sources. The lab had previously established that oxidative stress on epithelial cells from human lenses was the most important factor for developing cataracts in humans. Human epithelial cells were cultured in the presence of different LED light frequencies. A high color temperature of 7378 K caused damage to the epithelium while controls of lower color temperatures of 2954 K and 5624 K LED lights did not. The authors concluded that white LED light with a high color temperature could cause significant photobiological damage to human lens epithelial cells. This in turn can cause cataracts and legal blindness.
  1. Another research group studied human epithelial pigment retinal cells in tissue culture. They exposed the tissue cultures to various light frequencies, namely white, blue, green or red LED light. Reactive oxygen and DNA damage were assessed. The white light showed the highest amount of damage to the human retinal cell in culture.
  1. In a trial on senior long-term care home residents researchers found that intermittent exposure to bright light (versus red light) showed positive cognitive effects on the seniors. It is not clear why with respect to cognitive function there is a positive finding using white LED lights, while the other tests mentioned above showed negative effects on the lens and the retina of the eyes.
  1. In another investigation blue light filters were employed in night shift workers and the investigators detected beneficial health effects. In animal experiments the same results were found.

Normally in shift workers cancer, heart disease, metabolic disturbances, depression, anxiety disorders and reproductive problems are found.

LED Streetlights Can Be Harmful

LED Streetlights Can Be Harmful

Conclusion

Despite the evidence in the medical literature showing that yellow lights are better than the newer white LED lights, cities have been converting the yellow streetlights to white LED streetlights. It makes economic sense, but harms people. The American Medical Association is attempting to convince authorities to use common sense. The AMA wrote guidelines and hopes that city fathers will reconsider their decisions. If you are concerned, voice your opinion by talking to your political representative.

Jul
22
2016

Anxiety Is Common

Recently a review article was published that showed that anxiety is common. This research was conducted in England (Cambridge and London). 48 reviews about anxiety around the globe were examined. The results showed that anxiety in the world population fluctuates between 3.8–25%. Women (frequencies of 5.2–8.7%) and young adults (frequency 2.5–9.1%) are suffering from anxiety more. Among people with chronic diseases there is considerable variation in the frequency of associated anxiety (from 1.4% to 70%). The frequency of anxiety in various ethnic populations varies considerably around the world. For instance European and North American cultures have a relatively high anxiety rate in the population (3.8–10.4%) when compared to Indian and Asian cultures with only 2.8%. In Africa the rate is 4.4%, in Central and Eastern European countries the rate is 3.2%. In North Africa and the Middle East the anxiety rate is 4.9% while in Spanish/Latin cultures the rate is 6.2%.

Anxiety is common; subtypes

There are many subtypes of anxiety that have been researched. 

  1. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD): This disorder affects 6.8 million adults, or 3.1% of the U.S. population. Women get this condition twice as often than men. The risk for developing it is greatest between childhood and midlife. People with a mild case of GAD can cope and work. Severe cases can be disabling and may be difficult to treat.
  2. Social anxiety disorder: about 15 million US citizens suffer from this. This equally affects women and men. Typically it starts at the age of 13, but 36% of people will not ask for medical help for 10 years or more. Symptoms of anxiety surrounding social situations are so intense that it interferes severely with making friends and having romantic relationships. They end up being alone, powerless against their anxiety.
  3. Panic disorder: 6 million US citizens or 2.7% of the population suffer from this. Women commonly are twice as often affected by it than men. Panic attacks develop in early adulthood. They often suffer in silence; distance themselves from friends, family and caregivers who could offer them help. Panic disorders often occur simultaneously with depression and medical conditions like asthma, irritable bowel syndrome and substance abuse.
  4. Specific phobias: 19 million or 8.7% of the US population suffer from this. It often starts in childhood and the median onset is at age 7. People affected by specific phobias may be afraid of high bridges, of animals like spiders or mice, of thunder, of flying and a myriad of other things. It disrupts daily routines, causes limitations of work efficiency and reduces self-esteem. It also places a strain on relationships because people afflicted by this problem will do whatever they can to avoid the uncomfortable or terrifying feelings of phobic anxiety.
  5. Obsessive-compulsive disorder: 2 million or 1% of the population in the US suffer from this form of anxiety. Onset is in the teenage years, although 1/3 of adults with obsessive-compulsive disorder experienced symptoms already in childhood.
  6. Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD): 7 million people or 3.5% of the US population are suffering from PTSD. Women are much more affected by PTSD than men. But a lot of soldiers who were involved in direct combat situations will suffer from PTSD. Rape can be a source of PTSD. Most people who experience traumatic events and develop PTSD will be affected by it for months or even years, but eventually recover from them; a minority will not recover. Often therapy is helpful for these individuals.
  7. Major depressive disorder: 8 million American adults or about 6.7% of the U.S population will suffer from depression between the ages 15 and 44 years. It is more common among women. A certain percentage of depressed people commit suicide. Anxiety is often mixed in with depression.
  8. Persistent depressive disorder is a form of depression that persists for at least 2 years. 1.5% of the US population or 3.3 million adults suffer from this condition. The median onset is at age 31. Like with depression, so also with persistent depressive disorder, anxiety is very common.

Anxiety is common; related illnesses

There are many medical diagnoses where anxiety is often part of the symptom complex. The medical profession often talks about psychosomatic diseases. This means that these diseases have an anxiety overlay, which is part of the condition.

  • For instance, bipolar disorder is a condition where extreme mood swings are common, often between elation and mania, but then switching to deep depression with suicidal thoughts. Mixed into this condition is often a certain degree of anxiety, which can be very overwhelming.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome is a psychosomatic disease of the gut with bowel cramps and frequent bowel movements, in others there are periods of constipation. But irritable bowel syndrome often has anxiety attached to it. They are often inseparable.
  • Eating disorders: here the person has an intense fear of turning fat. Persons with eating disorder often restrict their calories severely, even when they are underweight. They may exercise for hours with the hope to lose weight. Perhaps the most striking condition among eating disorders is anorexia nervosa, which often affects teenage females, but adult women are affected as well. Sadly many of these women die from starvation or starvation related diseases.
  • Sleep disorders: more than 40 million Americans suffer from chronic, long-term sleeping disorder. Another 20 million suffer from occasional sleep disorder. Often there is stress and anxiety that interferes with the normal sleep cycle.
  • Chronic pain: Pain is a common symptom; if it is associated with a surgical procedure or with an injury it is short lived and eventually goes away. With chronic pain, the pain is there all the time. People with arthritis or nerve injuries that did not heal often have this type of pain. Fibromyalgia sufferers also have this type of pain. When a person has an underlying anxiety disorder and gets chronic pain on top of this, the pain is amplified and becomes even more chronic. On the other hand anybody with chronic pain will suffer from a certain amount of anxiety just because of the chronicity of the pain.
  • Fibromyalgia: this chronic musculoskeletal pain disorder is a special form of chronic pain. About 20% of fibromyalgia sufferers have either chronic depression or chronic anxiety, which complicates the condition.
  • Substance abuse: about 20% of people with chronic anxiety disorders have an alcohol or substance abuse disorder; and 20% of people abusing alcohol or having a substance abuse disorder have a chronic anxiety disorder.
  • Stress: too much stress can turn into distress. Distress is an overdose of stress where the stressed person loses control of the situation. This can cause depression and anxiety. It can also cause physical illness.
  • Headaches: migraines, anxiety and depression seem to affect the same population group. Stress and anxiety can cause muscles around the neck to get into spasms and cause tension type headaches. But any headache can be brought on by anxiety.

Anxiety is common; biochemical brain abnormalities

Dr. Kharrazian has summarized in his book that Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is a by-product of the brain cell metabolism is responsible for calming the brain (Ref.1). This mechanism is not working properly in people with anxiety. In many people with anxiety GABA is simply not produced enough to calm the brain or it gets inactivated too fast resulting in a lack of GABA with anxiety. The end result is the same: when there is a relative lack of GABA in the brain the person develops the symptoms of anxiety.

Disbalances in other neurotransmitters can also contribute to anxiety. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is essential to have for a stable mood and to prevent depression. It is produced in the mid brain. The pineal gland stores serotonin and makes melatonin out of it, which is essential for a normal sleep pattern. When serotonin is low, a number of things can happen. Anger and increased aggressiveness are associated with a lack of serotonin. But depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, migraines, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, bipolar disorder and anxiety disorder are also frequently observed. Many of these illnesses have been noted above to be associated with anxiety. Ref.1 also describes that stress inhibits the conversion of serotonin into melatonin, which explains sleep problems in persons who are exposed to chronic stress.

Anxiety is common; treatment options

What are the treatment options for a person with anxiety?

  1. Treatment with anxiolytics: It is tempting to just treat the symptoms in an anxious person. But just prescribing anxiolytics like benzodiazepines (like Xanax) will not cure anxiety, just relieve the symptoms for a while. Eventually the body gets used to benzodiazepine and requires higher doses to suppress the anxiety. This can be the beginning of drug dependency, which is not what the health professional or the patient wants. As mentioned above alcohol and substance abuse is already a problem for 1 in 5 people with anxiety.
  2. Treat sleep deprivation: An alternative is to concentrate on treating sleep deprivation helping the person to get a good night’s sleep. Melatonin at a dose of 3 mg at bedtime is a reasonable dose to help a person to fall asleep. If during the night the anxious person wakes up again, another dose of 3 mg of melatonin can be given. In addition, if an anxious person lies in bed and ruminates about various things that have happened during the day, a dose of valerian root (500 mg or even 1000 mg) can be useful. Dr. Datis Kharrazian describes in Ref.1 that valerian root increases GABA at the GABA receptor site. Research has also shown that valerian root slows down the breakdown of GABA. Although GABA is available in health food stores, GABA does not get absorbed through the blood/brain barrier easily. Only patients with autoimmune problems have a leaky blood/brain barrier and GABA can get through, but this is not a good approach to take for treating GABA deficiency. When you take GABA as a supplement, it wears off after a few days and loses its effect. It is wiser to stay away from GABA.
  3. Cognitive therapy and behavioral therapy has been proven to help the person with anxiety. Often psychologists specialize in these treatment methods. Meditation and counseling therapy will also help.
  1. Antidepressant therapy: In anxiety cases where depression is part of the psychological make-up antidepressants may have a place for a period of time. The FDA issued a warning in October 2004 about antidepressant medications, including SSRIs. These may lead to suicide and suicidal behavior in a small number of children and adolescents. But there is no way of predicting who will be affected this way. The antidepressant medications are still available and are still prescribed by many physicians.
  2. A balanced diet like a Mediterranean diet will ensure that the nutrients that are required to make GABA will be provided. Added sugar should be avoided as it may contribute to anxiety from blood sugar fluctuations.
  3. Yoga and biofeedback: Yoga with an emphasis on breathing techniques can also be useful. Biofeedback methods are useful as well.
Anxiety Is Common

Anxiety Is Common

Conclusion

Anxiety is common, but also very complex, as explained above. 74.8 million Americans suffer from the various forms of anxiety mentioned. Psychosomatic disease often involves anxiety as well and it can be difficult to sort out the symptoms of patients afflicted with physical illness and anxiety. Repeat visits to the treating doctor will eventually help sort these problems out. The physician will rule out any physical problems first by doing lab tests and imaging studies.

Treating anxiety should focus on reestablishing a healthy sleeping pattern. Self-hypnosis tapes or discs are useful. Melatonin and valerian root have their place. Cognitive-behavioral therapy will help the patient to reestablish clear thoughts and minimize the anxiety symptoms. With this approach the patient will often be able to overcome anxiety. There are no instant solutions, but with time and persistence the patient will be able to take back control of his or her life.

References:

Ref. 1: Dr. Datis Kharrazian: “Why Isn’t My Brain Working?” © 2013, Elephant Press, Carlsbad, CA 92011

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Jul
16
2016

Mediterranean With Healthy Fat

If you want to lose weight, have you considered eating Mediterranean with healthy fat? A lot has changed in recent years regarding recommendations for healthy food intake. In the eighties and nineties the low fat diet was recommended, which unfortunately was high in carbs and led to obesity. What we have learnt from this is that carbohydrates that get broken down in the gut into sugar are converted into fatty acids and stored as fat.

Studies regarding diets with unhealthy and healthy fats

  1. Here is a prospective study that followed 120,877 U.S. women and men over a longer time. Every 4 years it was noted that for potato chips 1.69 lbs. were gained, for potatoes 1.28 lbs., for sugar-sweetened beverages 1.00 lb., for unprocessed red meats 0.95 lb. and for processed meats 0.93 lb. On the other hand from vegetables there was a weight loss of −0.22 lb., for whole grains −0.37 lb., for fruits −0.49 lb., for nuts −0.57 lb. and for yogurt −0.82 lb. Cheese was also investigated and was found to be mostly neutral in terms of weight gain, while butter did cause weight gain.
  2. In a study from Spain that was published in the Lancet in June 2016. 7447 asymptomatic men (aged 55–80 years) and women (aged 60–80 years) were followed for about 5 years. They all had type 2 diabetes and three or more cardiovascular risk factors. They were randomly assigned to three Mediterranean diet types: a Mediterranean diet with olive oil, a Mediterranean diet with nuts and a control group on a low fat Mediterranean diet. The interesting finding after 5 years was that both the patients on the Mediterranean diet with nuts and with olive oil lost some waist circumference. Their weight loss was 0.95 lbs. for the olive oil group and 2.82 oz. in the Mediterranean diet group with nuts. The Mediterranean diet group with olive oil had lost 0.22 inches in the waistline, the other group on nuts lost 0.38 inches. These are hardly impressive losses! The researchers concluded that fat restriction is not necessary on the Mediterranean diet, as there was no weight gain with unrestricted healthy fats after 5 years.

Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, a cardiologist and epidemiologist of the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy wrote an editorial regarding this Spanish study: ”A handful of nuts may be 160 calories, which is more calories than a can of Coke, but that doesn’t mean the can of Coke is a better choice”. He added: “Salt, sugar, starch, processed food and trans fats should be off the menu, not fat. Healthy foods are healthy foods, and bad foods are bad. It doesn’t matter, if the food is low fat or high fat. This is a separate issue.”

Mediterranean With Healthy Fat

Mediterranean With Healthy Fat

Conclusion

When wanting to lose weight, the key is to pay attention to your carb intake. Make sure it consists of unrefined carbs. You will do this if you eat vegetables and fruit. Cut out sugar and starchy foods as much as you can. Have lean, clean meats, but avoid red meat except perhaps for every two weeks some grass fed beef. Eat fish (important for its content of omega-3 fatty acids), also enjoy yogurt, nuts, olive oil and avocados. It is an extra benefit if you add regular exercise to this as well. You will notice that you gradually shed the unnecessary pounds. This is not a program for just a month or two. To stay well, make it a new lifestyle!

Jul
09
2016

Avoid That Heart Attack

Recently Dr. Mark Hyman mentioned a 7-point program to avoid that heart attack. If you follow the recommendations below, chances are that you do not only avoid heart attacks, but also strokes, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity.

The Potsdam (or EPIC) study has shown that adhering to 4 simple things can reduce

Diabetes by 93%

Heart attacks by 81%

Strokes by 50%

All cancers by 36%.

What were those 4 points?

  1. Not smoking
  2. Exercising 3.5 hours a week
  3. Eating a healthy diet
  4. And maintaining a healthy weight

So with a few more points added it is no wonder that the figures can be even more impressive.

Other studies have also shown the importance of lifestyle changes to improve health outcomes; the INTERHEART study was based on 30,000 people in 52 countries that were followed along. Researchers found that 90 percent of all heart disease could be prevented by simple lifestyle changes.  I have added another point, regular exercise that has been proven to be very effective in preventing many diseases.

So, what are the 8 points that can assure that our health improves?

  1. Avoid that heart attack with a colorful, plant-based diet

Your dietary intake is important, because it provides all of the building blocks for your body. You want whole foods that are rich in phytonutrients. Often rainbow colors are mentioned, because the more varied your vegetables look, the more balanced the micronutrients, vitamins and minerals in the food items. Below we will learn that we want to avoid processed foods and hydrogenated fats, but we want to increase fiber and omega-3 fatty acids.

  1. Avoid that heart attack by stabilizing your blood sugar

Never eat refined carbs alone, as this goes chases up your blood sugar levels and causes unhealthy insulin reactions. Too much insulin production causes inflammation in the body, which can cause inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, clogged arteries with heart attacks and strokes and Alzheimer’s disease. You want to balance complex carbs from vegetables with healthy fats and clean protein in every meal. Avoid sugars- no matter whether it is “natural brown” or white sugar and refined carbohydrates. Your pancreas does not differentiate between honey and other sugars, and it will react the same way!

  1. Avoid that heart attack by increasing fiber intake

The more fiber you can tolerate, the better. 50 grams would be ideal, but not everybody can tolerate this due to bloating or a queasy stomach. But even if you can add 5 or 10 grams of fiber per day, this is progress. Fiber decreases LDL cholesterol by intervening with the enterohepatic pathway. Fiber is found in nuts, beans, vegetables, seeds and berries that have lower sugar in them. You can also take a fiber supplement directly like psyllium husk.

  1. Avoid that heart attack by cutting out processed foods

Processed foods and junk foods are popular as they fill you up fast when you are hungry. But they need to be avoided at all costs. Sodas, juices and diet drinks affect your sugar and fat metabolism. The extra calories that come from sugary drinks are the biggest contributors to diabetes, heart disease and obesity. Even 100% fruit juice is not healthy, because all of the fiber is removed and you are drinking sugar water to which your pancreas reacts by producing extra insulin. As already discussed the extra insulin just causes inflammation. May I suggest a homemade lemon juice that you make by squeezing ½ lemon into a glass; add a tiny bit of Stevia for sweetening and sparkling mineral water. This is a healthy drink without sugar. You can drink this as often as you want. Another component of processed food are omega-6 fatty acids. They are in processed foods, because they increase the shelf life in stores. But they cause inflammation in the body unless balanced by omega-3 fatty acids (see below).

  1. Avoid that heart attack by increasing omega-3 fatty acids

Fish and seafood provide you with healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Unfortunately not all fish are healthy. Tuna is a predator fish that accumulates a lot of mercury from the polluted oceans. As a result of this it is not on my fish list. I prefer wild salmon. I also take molecularly distilled fish oil, which has omega-3 fatty acids in it. Many processed foods contain only omega-6 fatty acids, because this is the cheapest way to produce them (they are based on vegetable oils). Also avoid soybean oil, which is the most popular oil in the last few decades to foul up the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. This ratio should be 1:1 to 3:1, but many Americans’ omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is 6:1 to 18:1. Omega-6-fatty acids cause arthritis, heart disease and strokes. Instead you want to eat healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids contained in nuts and fish. You can also add molecularly distilled, high potency omega-3 fatty acids as a supplement to help restore the balance between omega-6 and omega-3 in your food intake.

  1. Avoid that heart attack by eliminating all hydrogenated fat

Hydrogenated fat like margarine has been shown to cause accelerated hardening of the arteries, which causes heart attacks and strokes. Read labels and eliminate any food that contains hydrogenated fats. If the label indicates that you are dealing with a product containing ”partially hydrogenated oil”, stay away from it as well! Butter from grass fed cows is a healthy fat. Olive oil and coconut oil are both good cooking oils. Olive oil is also good in salad dressings.

  1. Avoid that heart attack by keeping alcohol to a minimum

The problem with alcohol is that it is a cell poison. On the other hand small amounts have been show to reduce heart attacks and strokes (one glass for women, two glasses for men per day). However, due to the cell poison effect even low amounts of alcohol contribute to cancer causation, and as a result of that alcohol remains a problem. If you must consume alcohol limiting the intake to minimal amounts is prudent. In women ovarian cancer can be caused by alcohol and men prostate cancer. In both sexes pancreatic cancer can be caused by alcohol. Higher amounts of alcohol raise inflammation with elevation of blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes. One recommendation: either consume no alcohol or use alcohol in moderation. One glass does not kill you, but several ones may do it over time!

  1. Avoid that heart attack by exercising regularly

Regular exercise is yet another factor that can help you to reduce heart attacks, strokes and cancer even further. I added it as point 8, because it is fundamentally such an important preventative factor. Some studies have shown as much as a 50% drop in many diseases simply by introducing regular exercise.

Avoid That Heart Attack

Avoid That Heart Attack

Conclusion

It is all about lifestyle factors. Pay attention to your diet. Add fiber, subtract sugar. Avoid processed foods, omega-6 fatty acids and hydrogenated fat. Have enough omega-3 fatty acids as fish and supplements. Keep alcohol to a minimum. Your benefits from changing these lifestyle factors, result in huge benefits. You are avoiding 90% of diabetes, 80% of heart attacks, 50% of strokes and 35% of cancers.

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Jul
02
2016

Zika Virus

Recently the question was asked on the news whether it was safe to go to the Olympics in Brazil; so here is some background information about the Zika virus. Zika virus was first isolated from mosquitoes in a forest named Zika forest in Uganda, which was in 1947.

Zika virus belongs into the virus family of Flaviviridae. Other members in that family are dengue fever, West Nile virus, yellow fever and Japanese encephalitis. Since the 1950’s Zika virus has occupied a narrow equatorial belt around the globe (Africa and Asia). But between 2007 and 2016 it spread further to the Americas and to the Pacific. Specifically French Polynesia, the Cook Islands, Easter Island and New Caledonia were included. Since May 2015 Brazil has joined the countries where mosquitoes are infected with Zika virus. This is an important point to know for the coming up Olympics in Rio on August 5 to 21, 2016.

Symptoms of Zika virus

For most people, particularly the young and middle aged Zika may not be that symptomatic. The most common symptoms are a fever, a skin rash, joint aches and red eyes (conjunctivitis). However, when a pregnant woman gets Zika virus, this will likely affect the fetus and will lead to a baby born with a small head (microcephalus), a severe complication from Zika virus. When a woman contracts Zika virus, the virus disappears after about one week. But in men the virus seems to stay longer, particularly in semen. This is why the CDC recommends for men using a condom or refraining from sex when returning from a holiday in a Zika endemic area. It may take up to 8 weeks for the semen to no longer be infective. The CDC recommends that a man who has come down with Zika to use a condom for 6 months.

Treatment of Zika virus

Make sure you get lots of rest. Take acetaminophen for fever or pain. Don’t take aspirin (ASA) or anti-inflammatory medication. Be aware that for between 1 and 3 weeks your blood likely is infectious. You want to avoid being bitten by a mosquito and it will be sensible to use insect repellant. The same insect could have bitten another person and spread the virus this way. A person who gets the Zika virus depends on the immune system to overcome the infection as there is no cure for this viral infection.

At this point no vaccine against Zika exists. There is research in an attempt to develop a Zika vaccine, which may become available in 2 to 3 years.

Zika virus risk with travel

If you travel to endemic areas, but visit mountainous areas above an elevation of 6,500 feet (2,000 meters) you are safe from Zika transmitting mosquitoes as they do not survive in these heights.

With regard to the Olympic Summer Games in Rio 2016 the CDC recommends to take a few precautions. Use insect repellents. Be aware as a woman that men infected with Zika virus can transmit the virus through sex. If you want to protect yourself from the risk of giving birth to a child with microcephaly, you may decide to use the birth control pill and ask your partner to use a condom. When you return back home, do not plan for a pregnancy for 6 months to avoid the risk.

The only recommendation for the Olympics by the CDC is that pregnant women should categorically not go to the games for fear of getting Zika infection resulting in a bad outcome of the pregnancy with microcephaly.

Microcephaly and other brain abnormalities from Zika virus

The CDC has stated that it is now established that Zika virus can cause microcephaly, but that it likely does not do so in all cases of Zika virus infection.

We know from German measles (rubella) that it can cause serious health risks for the fetus including death.

Zika is similarly neurotropic, meaning that it likes to multiply in nervous tissue including the brain. With rubella there is a vaccine available, which has made it much safer for pregnant women. But with Zika no vaccine is available. The only prevention is to stay away from endemic Zika areas and otherwise use reliable birth control methods.

Zika Virus

Zika Virus

Conclusion

I have briefly reviewed Zika virus in this blog. Unfortunately there are still many gaps in the knowledge of this disease. We need an effective Zika virus vaccine. It would also help to have antiviral antibiotics. All this needs to be researched. For now we need to use prevention and avoid endemic Zika regions by reading updates by the CDC.

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