zika virus

Zika Virus: What You Need to Know

By now, everyone has heard of the Zika virus rapidly taking over the Americas. Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Zika virus a “public health emergency of international concern” in the face of a rapid spread across Central and South America and the Caribbean. Though it’s been around for over six decades, the virus has spread like wild fired across the globe in the last several weeks.

To keep you up to date, here are some common questions you might have about Zika:

What is the Zika virus?

The Zika virus, originally discovered in 1947 in a monkey from the Zika forest of Uganda, is in the same disease family as Yellow fever, Dengue, and West Nile. The virus is spread through mosquito bites, blood transfusions, and sexual transmission.

zika_virus_cycleWhat are the symptoms?

Zika virus brings upon symptoms of severe fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, spotted rash, joint pain, muscle pain and even pain in the back of the eyes. However, roughly 80% people infected are asymptomatic and are unaware they even carry the virus.

So, how serious is it for women?

While Zika is not as serious an issue for most of the non-pregnant population, it is very serious for pregnant women living in or visiting affected countries. Zika has become increasingly frightening for pregnant women, with links to microcephaly and numerous brain defects for unborn babies.

Currently, Brazil has recorded over 4,700 suspected cases of microcephaly.  Additionally, Zika is now circulating in at least 28 countries, including many island nations in the tropical Atlantic (update: now Australia and a few countries in Europe). Researchers suspect Zika could infect 3-4 million people by the end of 2016 and spread to all but two countries across the Americas.

WHO and the CDC have warned that whether you’re living in an affected area or traveling abroad, you should be aware of the symptoms and transmission cycle of the virus, though they have yet to warn against traveling altogether.

What exactly is microcephaly?

Microcephaly, which literally means “small head,” is a condition where the head size of newborns in abnormally small, usually as low as the bottom one percent. According to Dr. Ganeshwaran Mochida, a pediatric neurologist and researcher at Boston Children’s Hospital, “Microcephaly is almost always due to insufficient growth of the brain.”  The condition currently affects roughly 25,000 children in the U.S., making it fairly uncommon.

Mochida believes we have yet to understand the full spectrum of congenital Zika virus infection and “there could be subtle developmental issues or other organs that are affected.”

What about Zika spreading in the U.S.?

In short, there’s not a huge threat here. Thankfully, the U.S. is equipped to prevent an outbreak simply because of our modern amenities, including air conditioning and insulated homes. However, in the last several months, there have been over 48 patients in at least 12 states and Washington, D.C., all of which come from people traveling abroad recently (except for two in Dallas).

This week, here in Dallas, two cases were reported and appeared to have been sexually transmitted from one person to the other. This is the only known instance of the virus being transmitted this way in the States, but officials believe it could become a more serious concern moving forward.

Additionally, Florida Governor Rick Scott recently declared a health emergency in four counties throughout the state in an attempt to stop the virus in it’s tracks. There’s no record yet that the virus has entered the mosquito population in Florida, but it could move through someone coming into Florida from Brazil or another affected country.

Finally, the biggest concern for officials though are our territories, namely Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Both of these territories are right in the heart of the affected areas and have already seen a number of cases.

pharmaceutical disposal

Pharmaceuticals Disposal and What’s Next for the Industry

Pharmaceuticals disposal is often an overlooked topic of discussion.  Historically, the public has resorted to flushing unused or expired medications down the toilet or throwing them out with the trash, mostly due to a lack of take back programs or events in many communities. 

In recent years, studies have shown rising levels of medications in water sources, including over 24 metropolitan areas across America.  These medicines seep into water supplies and pass through treatment systems and into drinking water, as treatment plants are often not equipped to routinely remove medicines.

Catch-22 anyone?

Currently, the status of pharmaceuticals disposal causes quite a contradictory issue. On one hand, we have an ever-growing concern for the environment and safe-levels of drinking water, but on the other, the majority of communities actually lack the abilities for take back programs and thus the general public simply ends up holding on to unused drugs. According to Conrad MacKerron, senior VP of the environmental group As You Sow, “Only about 1 percent of U.S. pharmacies offer a drug take-back program.”  As a result, we run into the issue of the poisoning of children or pets, the misuse and overdose by teens and adults, and even the accidental consumption of wrong medications by seniors.

So, what’s next for the industry?

In September, the EPA proposed two new rules to combat the growing issues at hand. The first, aptly named the pharmaceutical rule, aims to prevent all facilities in healthcare from flushing pills down the drain, keeping an estimated more than 6,400 tons of pharmaceuticals waste out of our water systems. The goal here is to push pharmaceutical companies into creating their own take-back initiatives.

The other rule, or the generator rule, looks to improve the labeling of hazardous waste, as well as provide better preparation for emergency planning and preparedness. According to Mathy Stanislaus, assistant administrator of the EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, “the proposals will improve the safety and health of our communities by providing clear, flexible and protective hazardous waste management standards.”

Great, but what should we, the public, do?

Drug take-back events

First things first, you should get in contact with your local government’s trash and recycling services and ask about community drug take-back programs, or contact the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA)-authorized collectors. Some communities hold collection days and accept unwanted or expired drugs through retail pharmacies, hospital or clinical pharmacies, and law enforcement locations.  Some pharmacies even offer mail-back envelopes for disposing of medicines.

According the the EPA’s website, “Consumers can visit the DEA’s website for more information about drug disposal and to locate an authorized collector in their area. Consumers may also call the DEA Office of Diversion Control’s Registration Call Center at 1-800-882-9539 to find an authorized collector in their community.”

Household disposal

If drug take-back events aren’t possible, which they often are not, you should follow these steps for carefully disposing of medicines. Firstly, remove prescription drugs from their containers and mix with undesirable substances, such as cat litter or coffee grounds. Then, place the mixture in a sealable empty bag or container. Finally, mark out sensitive information on old prescription bottles and dispose of everything in the trash. But remember, this should be a final option after take-back events.

If you’re part of a pharmaceutical company, consider taking the EPA’s advice.  Small steps now can lead to major strides down the road.