KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

full issue

After Ebola Missteps, Politicians Walk Delicate Line On Zika Messaging

The White House and other political leaders need to strike a balance between preparedness and disproportionate reactions that go beyond public health recommendations. Meanwhile, new research calls into question the link between the virus and a rare birth defect, even as women worry about abortion and childlessness as a result of the crisis.

Politico: Is Zika The New Ebola?
The latest Obama administration crisis comes on the wings of a mosquito. After muted warnings about a mosquito-borne virus in Brazil associated with a surge of babies born with abnormally small heads and brain damage, the World Health Organization on Thursday ramped up the alarm, warning the Zika virus is “spreading explosively” through the Americas — teeing up a familiar playbook of panic over an unfamiliar disease. Federal health officials say they expect Zika spread in the United States but that any outbreak would be limited. The White House and a growing list lawmakers are trying to get ahead of a firestorm, with reassuring images and messages. But as the Ebola panic demonstrated in 2014, it’s hard to communicate subtle public health messages in the best of circumstances. (Kenen and Haberkorn, 1/28)

The Associated Press: Scientists: More Research Needed Into Zika-Microcephaly Link
The release of new figures apparently finding fewer cases of microcephaly in Brazil than first feared is adding force to calls for more research into the link between the rare birth defect and the spreading Zika virus. Health experts have been looking at 4,180 suspected cases of microcephaly reported since October in Brazil, where authorities said the birth defect could be linked to the virus and announced that 220,000 military personnel were being deployed to help eradicate the Aedes aegypti mosquito that transmits Zika. (Barchfield and Stobbe, 1/28)

The Associated Press: In Face Of Zika Virus, Women Ponder Abortion, Childlessness
Maria Erlinda Guzman desperately wants a baby, and has been undergoing fertility treatments at El Salvador's largest women's hospital. But now, she fears her dream of motherhood may be dashed by Zika. After her country took the extraordinary step of advising women to avoid pregnancies for two years due to concerns about the rapidly spreading virus, the 34-year-old now plans to start using contraception. She worries that she may be too old to conceive by the time it is considered safe to do so. (Sherman, 1/29)

And while the CDC says it is operating in full outbreak mode, experts say Zika is not causing outbreaks in the U.S. —

Reuters: CDC Says In Full Outbreak Mode In Response To Zika
U.S. disease detectives have moved into full outbreak mode over the Zika virus, assembling a team of hundreds of experts to try to better understand its impact as it spreads in the Americas. ... The World Health Organization on Thursday said it would consider next week whether to declare Zika an international health emergency, and estimated that as many as 4 million people could be affected by the virus as it spreads in Latin America and the Caribbean to North America in the coming months. (Steenhuysen, 1/29)

USA Today: Zika Virus Not Causing Outbreaks In Continental U.S.
Although a number of returning U.S. travelers have been infected with the Zika virus while visiting Latin America, the mosquito-borne virus is not causing outbreaks in the continental U.S., health officials said Thursday. Thirty-one Americans in 11 states and Washington, D.C., have been diagnosed with a Zika infection contracted while traveling abroad, said Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those are isolated cases, however, and very different from the Zika epidemic in Brazil, which had an estimated 1 million Zika infections by the end of last year. (Szabo, 1/28)

NPR: U.S. Health Agencies Intensify Fight Against Zika Virus
A human study of Zika virus vaccine could begin as early as this year, U.S. health officials told reporters Thursday. But the officials cautioned that it could be years before the vaccine is available for wide use. The news came as the Zika virus continues to spread through the Americas. Still, a large outbreak is seen as unlikely in the U.S. "There's still a lot we don't know, so we have to be very careful about making any absolute predictions," says Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. (Stein, 1/28)

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.