US officials study virus link to birth defects
US health officials are stepping up efforts to study the link between infections from a mosquito-borne virus and birth defects in infants.
They are investigating the Zika virus amid predictions that it will circulate widely in the United States during warmer months.
The National Institutes of Health called on Tuesday for the intensified efforts, citing a study estimating that the virus could reach regions where 60 percent of the US population lives.
The virus has been linked to brain damage in thousands of babies in Brazil.
There is no vaccine or treatment for Zika, a close cousin of dengue and chikungunya, which causes mild fever and a rash. An estimated 80 percent of people infected have no symptoms, making it diffi for pregnant women to know whether they have been infected.
On Tuesday, US President Barack Obama called for the rapid development of tests, vaccines and treatments to fight the Zika virus.
“The president emphasized the need to accelerate research efforts to make available better diagnostic tests, to develop vaccines and therapeutics, and to ensure that all Americans have information about the virus,” the White House said in a statement.
Health officials in Virginia said a resident from the state who traveled outside the US had tested positive for the virus.
The adult traveled recently to a country where Zika virus transmission was ongoing and the infection was confirmed through testing by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Virginia Department of Health said.
In China, health authorities are tracking the spread of the Zika virus, He Xiong, deputy director of the Beijing Center for Disease Prevention and Control, said on Wednesday
“We are fully prepared and will take effective measures in case it spreads to China,” he said, adding that the virus has not been found in the country, but people should remain alert.
In Panama, authorities said that by Saturday, the northeast community of Guna Yala had registered 42 cases of the Zika virus.
A Danish tourist returning from Latin America has also been diagnosed with the virus.
Concepcion Picciotto, a woman known for her decades of protesting against nuclear proliferation and other world issues from a peace camp across the street from the White House, died on Monday in Washington at the age of 80. Picciotto, also known as Connie and Conchita, had been camping out in Lafayette Square since 1981. Many Chinese also remembered her well. “I am so sad to hear that. I admired her strong conviction,” said Qiao Ling, a Chinese tourist. The group that organizes the installation said in a statement on Tuesday that Picciotto held the vigil the longest of any volunteer. Inset: Picciotto protesting outside the White House on April 24, 2011. Right: flowers placed by mourners on Tuesday outside the peace camp set up by Picciotto.