Roundup: Experts Raise Red Flags Over Zika and Brazil Olympics; FDA to Redefine the Term 'Healthy' for Food Labeling

The combination of the Zika virus and the upcoming Olympic Games is a “perfect storm” for a global health crisis, according to recent alerts from  public health experts. Concerns about the spread of Zika were voiced during a recent health symposium in Miami. And this month, a prominent health journal raised a red flag about the global threat represented by Zika – a disease carried by mosquitoes — and the Olympic Games in which athletes and spectators from around the globe will be gathering in Brazil this summer.

Brazil has been hard hit by birth defects and other ailments linked to the Zika virus.

“Simply put, Zika infection is more dangerous, and Brazil’s outbreak more extensive, than scientists reckoned a short time ago.  Which leads to a bitter truth: the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games must be postponed, moved, or both, as a precautionary concession,” according to a report recently published in the Harvard Public Health Review.

Zika, already prevalent in much of Latin America and the Caribbean, is believed to cause microcephaly when contracted in pregnancy. This is a serious birth defect in which babies are born with abnormally small heads and other health concerns. The Zika virus has been linked to thousands of cases of recent birth defects in Brazil.

“Now with those data finally available, the situation seems not so safe: Rio de Janeiro’s suspected Zika cases are the highest of any state in in Brazil (26,000), and its Zika incidence rate is the fourth worst (157 per 100,000). Or in other words: according to the Brazil’s official data, Rio is not on the fringes of the outbreak, but inside its heart,” wrote Amir Attaran, DPhil, from the Faculty of Medicine and Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa, in the Harvard Public Health Review.

What’s more, a recent study has linked the Zika virus — a mosquito-carried disease — to Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), a disease of the nervous system that can cause muscle weakness or temporary paralysis, according to international health officials.

Zika Cases Nationwide

In the U.S., as of May 4, there are 472 reported cases of Zika virus, all related to travel outside the U.S. Of those 472 cases:

  • Pregnant women represented 44 of the cases.
  • Sexually transmitted Zika cases totaled 10.
  • There was one case of Guillain-Barré syndrome, a neurological disorder that is often accompanied by temporary paralysis.

In the U.S. Territories (Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands)

  • Zika cases linked to travel: 3
  • Locally acquired cases: 658
  • Pregnant women represented 59 of reported cases.
  • Five cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome. 


Statewide, there are a total 109 cases, including 44 in Miami-Dade County and 15 in Broward County. All of the cases are linked to travel.

“Based on CDC guidance, several pregnant women who have traveled to countries with local-transmission of Zika have received antibody testing, and of those, five have tested positive for the Zika virus,” Florida health officials report.

Helpful Zika-related links:

FDA to Redefine the Term ‘Healthy’ for Food Labeling

Responding to pressure from healthcare leaders, consumer advocates and the public, the Food and Drug Administration says it will redefine the term “healthy” as it applies to food labels.

What foods are exactly “healthy” has shifted after countless studies and a fairly unrelenting obesity epidemic since the FDA wrote its current guidlines in the 1990s. Back then, the prevailing fitness trend supported low-fat diets, allowing products like fat-free pudding cups and sugary cereal to be labeled as healthy, but not whole foods such as nuts, avocados and salmon, which have now come to be considered sources of nutritious fats. Meanwhile, too much “added sugar” in the American diet is considered the prevailing culprit behind climbing obesity rates, in both children and adults.

Congress is also urging the FDA to update what is and is not healthy. The FDA did not give a timetable for revising guidelines that dictate what foods are truly “healthy.”

Meanshile, the government’s current MyPlate guidelines recommend nuts, seeds and fish as part of a balanced diet — adding to the confusion over the decades-old nutrition labeling guidelines.

“Consumers want to make informed food choices and it is the FDA’s responsibility to help them by ensuring labels provide accurate and reliable nutrition information,” the FDA said in a statement. “In light of evolving nutrition research, forthcoming Nutrition Facts Labeling final rules, and a citizen petition, we believe now is an opportune time to reevaluate regulations concerning nutrient content claims, generally, including the term ‘healthy.’ We plan to solicit public comment on these issues in the near future.”

Currently, food producers can use the term “healthy” as a claim if the food fits certain criteria for levels of fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium and sugar.

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