You may have heard the news: Brazil is facing a startling outbreak of microcephaly, a rare condition in which an infant is born with a head much smaller than it should be. Microcephaly almost always causes significant brain damage and can be life threatening. The epidemic has been linked to a simultaneous influx of the mosquito-borne virus Zika, which was first detected in the country last April and is now spreading rapidly around the Americas.
You may have seen some pretty scary headlines in recent days relating to a new virus that has the medical community on alert. Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is a viral respiratory illness that can be passed between people in close contact. The condition was first reported in 2012 in Saudi Arabia, and so far most of those who have been infected have been from that region of the world.
People with MERS develop severe acute respiratory illness, presenting symptoms like fever, coughing and shortness of breath. And while there have been deaths associated with the disease, many have been older men with pre-existing health conditions. However, other cases have been reported where the patient experienced just mild respiratory illness.
While MERS is not the same as the SARS virus, it has similar attributes, including how it is transmitted. Since its discovery, doctors have seen transmission from people in close contact to each other, including patients infecting health-care workers. Clusters of cases in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the U.K., France, Tunisia and Italy all have been reported and are being closely watched by the World Health Organization (WHO). …
We’re not the only ones who enjoyed the record-setting mild winter—ticks and mosquitoes have too. While normal winters produce hard freezes that kill off these pests or make them dormant, unseasonably warm temperatures allowed adult mosquitoes and ticks to live through it, creating early arrival and a potential population boom for some types of bugs.
So how can you prepare your family for the early onslaught of ticks and mosquitoes?
“Prevention is key,” says Catherine Lachenauer, MD, director of Infectious Diseases Outpatient Practice at Boston Children’s Hospital. “Avoid areas at the edge of the woods with long grasses. Also, wearing long, light-colored clothing helps keep ticks from getting on the skin and makes it easier to recognize one on your body.” …
Children’s Hospital Boston, in association with Harvard Medical School, just launched an updated version of HealthMap, a web-based global surveillance tool used to monitor infectious diseases and their effect on the populations where outbreaks occur. Co-created by John Brownstein, PhD of Children’s Informatics Program, the webpage is an easy to read site that operates in real time and lets users track current disease outbreaks by pulling data and news stories from over 20,000 sources.
With as many as 150,000 visitors a day, HealthMap has users from all reaches of the medical community. From concerned moms keeping an eye on a rash of new chicken pox cases in their hometown to members of the World Health Organization collecting aggregated data on the pattern of H1N1 outbreaks in rural China, HealthMap is a user-friendly way for people of all backgrounds to quickly assess data and news stories on infectious disease, from anywhere in the world as they are occurring.