The Zika Virus: A Major Health Concern for the Western Hemisphere

The Zika virus, a mosquito transmitted pathogen indigenous to Africa, has been spreading throughout the non-immune Western Hemisphere since May 2015. Zika is spread by mosquitoes, and in most people causes a rash, fever, and other non-specific symptoms. Things get a lot more serious when pregnant women become infected: the virus can spread to the fetus, causing microcephaly and vision and hearing defects.

Currently, twenty-two countries in the Western Hemisphere- including the US- and Denmark have confirmed cases. At this point, Latin America and the Caribbean have been subject to the greatest virus spread, and Brazil has been hit the worst: in Brazil alone, more than one million people are affected and almost 4,000 babies have been born with microcephaly caused by in utero Zika infection. The Brazilian government has deployed over 200,000 troops to help distribute insect repellant and eradicate mosquitoes (the vector of the disease) and researchers are looking into the possibility that the Olympics might provide the virus another opportunity to spread. El Salvador, along with other countries, has taken drastic measures, recommending that women refrain from becoming pregnant until 2018 (a move that has called increased attention to and public questioning of the country’s widespread bans on abortion).

Pregnant women in the United States are advised not to travel to a growing list of destinations where the virus is prevalent. While the CDC has stated that widespread transmission in the United States is unlikely, they have recommended that all infants born to mothers who have traveled to or lived in areas experiencing outbreaks be tested for the virus. Awareness of the Zika virus remains directly important for U.S. medical providers. The virus poses a risk for localized spread in parts of the U.S. and has been reported in returning travelers. To date, there is no vaccine for the virus.

Article: Short Answers to Hard Questions About Zika Virus

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The Zika Virus: A Major Health Concern for the Western Hemisphere

Working for the Weekend: England’s Physicians Strike to Oppose New Compensation Proposal

Yesterday, thousands of physicians in England went on strike to protest a new contract proposed by their National Health Service (NHS). The strike, which ended this morning, was organized primarily by “junior doctors” – medical professionals with up to ten years of experience.  It’s unclear how many physicians participated in the strike, but over 4,000 non-urgent operations were cancelled as a result (striking physicians continued to offer emergency care). At the heart of the dispute is compensation: the NHS’s contract increases basic pay for physicians but decreases the amount of compensation for extra hours. The aim of this shift is to improve hospital safety on weekends, when hospitals often find themselves understaffed and may (or may not) see increased mortality rates for some conditions. The government claims the contract would create “a genuine seven-day service,” but the strikers argue that the contract would lead to more work, more strain, and less safety. All of this is happening at a time when the NHS, known widely as one of the most efficient healthcare systems in the world, is becoming increasingly financially burdened by an aging population and tightened budgets.

Article: Junior Doctors’ Strike in England Disrupts Care for Thousands

Working for the Weekend: England’s Physicians Strike to Oppose New Compensation Proposal

Is Birth Control Going Over the Counter?

…not yet, but it looks like things might be heading in that direction. With legislation becoming active on New Years Day, women in Oregon can now get hormonal contraceptives from a pharmacy, without having to go to the doctor first. The legislation, which was sponsored by a Republican and received bipartisan support, still requires prescriptions but that authority lies in the hands of pharmacists who complete a training protocol. Roughly half of all pregnancies are unintended, and physicians argue that easier access to contraception would likely reduce abortion. This move seems like a positive step forward toward many physicians’ ultimate goal of converting contraception into over-the-counter products. However, some groups, like the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, worry that a move like this could actually slow down progress towards that goal.

Article: Birth Control Without Seeing a Doctor: Oregon Now, More States Later

Is Birth Control Going Over the Counter?