World Health Organization

The Zika Epidemic Began Long Before Anyone Noticed

Zika virus
Researchers used genetic information from Zika virus (illustrated) to follow its spread among affected regions in South and Central America and the Caribbean.


The Zika virus probably arrived in the Western Hemisphere from somewhere in the Pacific more than a year before it was detected, a new genetic analysis of the epidemic shows. Researchers also found that as Zika fanned outward from Brazil, it entered neighboring countries and South Florida multiple times without being noticed.

Although Zika quietly took root in northeastern Brazil in late 2013 or early 2014, many months passed before Brazilian health authorities received reports of unexplained fever and skin rashes. Zika was finally confirmed as the culprit in April 2015.

The World Health Organization did not declare the epidemic a public health emergency until February 2016, after babies of Zika-infected mothers began to be born with severe neurological problems. Zika, which is carried by mosquitoes, infected an estimated 1 million people in Brazil alone in 2015, and is now thought to be transmitted in 84 countries worldwide.

Although Zika’s path was documented starting in 2015 through records of human cases, less was known about how the virus spread so silently before detection, or how outbreaks in different parts of Central and South America were connected. Now two groups working independently, reporting online May 24 in Nature, have compared samples from different times and locations to read the history recorded in random mutations of the virus’s 10 genes.

One team, led by scientists in the United Kingdom and Brazil, drove more than 1,200 miles across Brazil — “a Top Gear–style road trip,” one scientist quipped — with a portable device that could produce a complete catalog of the virus’s genes in less than a day. A second team, led by researchers at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, analyzed more than 100 Zika genomes from infected patients and mosquitoes in nine countries and Puerto Rico. Based on where the cases originated, and the…

The Most Debilitating Disease in the World Isn’t Just in Your Head

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The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced a new condition as the leading cause of of poor health and disability around the world, which has seen an 18% spike in diagnoses over the past few years. A condition that most of us have encountered in our lives either through personal experience or the difficulties of a friend or loved one. And, in a new twist, this condition is a mental disorder.

Major Depressive Disorder, more commonly known as depression now affects more than 300 million people across the globe, causing a lack of self-esteem, the inability to enjoy activities that previously brought pleasure, low energy, pain, and in severe cases delusion and hallucination. Between 2-7% of individuals with depression will go on to commit suicide.

Depression infographic by Mental Health Association of AMerica
Infographic by Mental Health America.

While one might suppose this condition would be equal opportunity, rates of occurrence are higher in developed nations than in the developing world, whether or not this is a situation of higher rates of detection or the actual existence of many more cases overall is currently unknown. It has been shown that cases are more common…

This Boat Sails Women Into International Waters To Give Abortions

Women on Waves boat off the coast of Mexico in April 2017.

A tiny nonprofit is bringing major attention to some countries’ restrictive reproductive health laws by delivering abortion pills to women ― in international waters.

Dutch group Women on Waves navigates its 36-foot sailboat to the coasts of countries that restrict abortion, brings women aboard, and sails them into international waters to give them abortion pills for free. Women on Waves steers its passengers more than 12 miles off the coast, where the boat operates under the laws of its country’s flag ― Austria, which allows abortion during the first three months of pregnancy.

Last month, the group’s boat docked off the coast of Mexico, which has strict abortion laws. For several days, the group sailed women into international waters to provide them with a combination of mifepristone and misoprostol pills, a form of medical abortion recommended as “effective and safe” by the World Health Organization.

“It makes clear the absurdity of the laws: to go to international waters only to take a pill,” Women on Waves’ Leticia Zenevich told HuffPost. “The fact that women need to leave the state sovereignty to retain their own sovereignty ― it makes clear states are deliberately stopping women from accessing their human right to health.”

Women on Waves boat off the coast of Mexico in April 2017.

Mexico abortion restrictions vary by state. While abortion is legal in Mexico City, women who live elsewhere and cannot afford to travel often undergo illegal and at times unsafe abortions, reports Reuters.

More than 21 million women have unsafe abortions around the world each year,…

Why Is Measles Surging Across Europe?

In 2000, health officials announced that measles has been eliminated from the Americas, thanks to the measles vaccine and a strong vaccination program. (We still see some cases of measles, but they’re imported. More on that below.) But as BBC News reports, the highly contagious disease is still on the rise in multiple European countries due to low immunization coverage.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there were more than 500 reported measles cases in Europe in January 2017—and the number of new infections keeps on climbing. (To give this figure some perspective, there were 21 reported measles cases in the U.S. from January 1 to February 25, 2017.) The majority of these cases came from France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Romania, Switzerland, and Ukraine—all countries in which experts estimate that less than 95 percent of the population has received the second dose of the two-dose measles vaccine. Around 95 percent of people need to be vaccinated to protect the entire population from the disease.

Romania and…