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US health officials say Zika virus “scarier” than first thought

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The Zika virus is “scarier” than first thought and the mosquito that spreads it is currently present in around 30 US states, top American health officials say.

The virus is linked to broader set of complications with pregnancy, not just shrunken head or microcephaly, but also prematurity, blindness and other conditions, the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said.

There was deep concern about Puerto Rico where they may be hundreds of thousands of cases, principal deputy director of the CDC Dr Anne Schuchat said.

She said there was hope there would not be broad transmission across the US mainland, but that authorities needed to be prepared.

“Everything we look at with this virus seems to be a bit scarier than we initially thought,” Dr Schuchat said.

“And so while we absolutely hope we don’t see widespread local transmission in the continental US, we need the states to be ready for that.

“We can’t assume we’re not going to have a big problem.”

A request by President Barack Obama for nearly $US2 billion ($2.6 billion) in assistance to fight the virus has stalled in Congress.

Zika, linked to numerous cases of the birth defect micocephaly in Brazil, is spreading rapidly in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The White House said last week in the absence of the emergency funds it will redirect $US589 million ($775 million), mostly from money already provided by Congress to tackle the Ebola virus, to prepare for Zika before it begins to emerge in the continental US as the weather warms.

Agencies

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Deadly Nipah virus claims 12 in Indian state of Kerala

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NEW DELHI — At least 12 people in India have died from a rare deadly and contagious virus known as Nipah virus, according to news reports.

Four deaths were reported on Monday, including of a nurse who treated the three initial infections at the EMS Cooperative Hospital in Perambra. The death of the nurse triggered panic among hospital staff who have had their leaves cancelled to treat the sick, Hindustan Times reported

Two deaths were reported from Kozhikode and four from Malappuram district. At least six persons are in critical condition and another 20 are under observation, state health officials said.

It was recorded in Siliguri district in West Bengal in 2001 and is being suspected in Kerala now, according to media reports

Humans get infected by consuming fruit or date-palm sap contaminated by infected bats but while human-to-human transmission through body fluids is rare.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Nipah virus infection is an emerging disease that was first identified in 1999 during an outbreak among pig farmers in Malaysia and Singapore.

The virus is thought to naturally infect fruit bats (of the genus Pteropus), but it can also infect pigs and other domesticated animals, as well as humans, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The virus can also spread from person to person.

CDC says Nipah virus can cause an inflammation of the brain known as encephalitis. Symptoms can include fever and headache, followed by drowsiness, disorientation and confusion. People who are infected with the virus may fall into a coma within 48 hours of showing symptoms, the CDC says.

The virus can be highly lethal, with an average fatality rate of around 75 percent, according to the WHO.

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