News Roundup: Spread of Zika Virus 'Alarming,' Officials Say; Indoor Tanning Linked to Skin Cancer Spike in Young Women

In its first major statement on the Zika virus, the World Health Organization said it will convene an emergency meeting to seek ways of stopping Zika’s mosquito-borne transmission, which health officials said is spreading quickly across Latin America and the Caribbean.

“The level of alarm is extremely high, as is the level of uncertainty,” said Margaret Chan, director general of the WHO, said in Geneva in a briefing for member countries.  “Questions abound. We need to get some answers quickly. ”

Chan said that the situation now is significantly different from last year because of the quickly multiplying number of cases and the severity of the symptoms.

By far, the biggest risk from the Zika virus is to pregnant women and their fetuses.  The CDC urges pregnant women who have been to affected regions – whether they have symptoms or not –  to eventually have an ultrasound scan to see if their fetuses are are showing signs of brain malformations or calcification of the skull.

“Arrival of the virus in some places has been associated with a steep increase in the birth of babies with abnormally small heads and in cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome (a neurological condition),” Chan said.

About one in five people infected with Zika will get sick. For people who get sick, the illness is usually mild. The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, or conjunctivitis (red eyes). Other common symptoms include muscle pain and headache.

The Zika virus is transmitted to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These are the same mosquitoes that spread dengue and chikungunya viruses.

Health officials said 23 countries are affected by mosquitoes that are spreading the virus locally. As of Thursday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the U.S. has 31 confirmed cases in 11 states and the District of Columbia. All are travel-related. The country also has 20 additional cases because of local transmission in U.S. territories — 19 in Puerto Rico and one in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The CDC has issued Zika travel warnings for Americans traveling to Central America, South America, Mexico, Puerto Rico and other destinations in the Caribbean.

Here is the CDC’s dedicated page for information on the Zika virus.

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Indoor Tanning Causes Spike in Skin Cancer Cases for Young Women

Cases of melanoma, a potentially deadly form of skin cancer, have dramatically increased in women, ages 25 to 49 years old, especially when compared to men of the same age.  Indoor tanning is the culprit, according to new researched published in JAMA Dermatology, a medical journal published by the America Medical Association.

The study results are in line with federal and local efforts to ban or restrict indoor tanning. The U.S. food and Drug Administration, for example, has proposed an indoor tanning ban for minors based on the steep increases in melanoma cases in young people—especially in women younger than 50. The latest research examined why there was a gender gap.

“Almost all women diagnosed with melanoma under the age of 30 reported the use of tanning beds, and were six times more likely to develop the disease than study participants that did not use indoor tanning beds,” according to a statement from the University of Minnesota.

What’s more, women ages 30 to 49, with a history of  indoor tanning sessions, had a two-to-three times greater chance of developing melanoma than those who had not used indoor tanning beds. Indoor tanning, which involves ultraviolet lights, was identified as a cancer-causing activity in 2009.

“The melanoma epidemic can be expected to continue unless indoor tanning is restricted and reduced,” according to  the study, which was led by researchers from the University of Minnesota.

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