Infectious diseases

Zika: Worse than we thought?

John Ross, MD, FIDSA
John Ross, MD, FIDSA, Contributing Editor

Just a few months ago, public health experts were confident that there would be minimal spread of Zika virus into the United States. But as they’ve continued to study Zika and catalog its effects on countries around the world, they’re discovering that it might be scarier than they initially thought. We’ve summarized the latest findings on Zika and included tips to help you ward it off.

The inconvenient truth of vaccine refusal

Claire McCarthy, MD
Claire McCarthy, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

The development of vaccines for many once-fatal illnesses has saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of children in the United States. While some parents may have concerns about the side effects of a vaccine, the decision not to vaccinate a child extends the risk of illness to the larger community.

Zika, pregnancy, and winter travel: Many unknowns, and a cautious message

Hope Ricciotti, MD
Hope Ricciotti, MD, Editor in Chief, Harvard Women's Health Watch

If you’re planning an escape from the dreary winter weather, and you’re pregnant or trying to get pregnant, you may want to plan your destination carefully. There’s still a lot we don’t know about Zika virus — which is now widespread in several favorite tropical destinations, such as the Caribbean — and its potential pregnancy-related complications. Until we know more, it’s better to be safe and follow the precautions we’ve listed here.

Don’t shrug off shingles

Matthew Solan
Matthew Solan, Executive Editor, Harvard Men's Health Watch

Shingles, an itchy and painful rash that occurs when the chickenpox virus reactivates in your body, shouldn’t be written off as just a nuisance. If it’s not treated promptly with an antiviral drug, it can cause a host of serious long-term complications. Fortunately, there’s a vaccine that can slash your risk of shingles by half, and another, even more effective one in the pipeline.

Don’t judge your mucus by its color

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Many people still think the color or consistency of nasal discharge determines whether you have a sinus infection. The truth is that anything that irritates the nose’s delicate lining — whether a virus, bacterium, or allergen — can result in any color or consistency of discharge. In fact, viruses are the most common cause of sinus infections, meaning you shouldn’t run to your doctor based on your mucus color alone.

What the rise of Zika (and other viruses) might tell us about our planet

John Ross, MD, FIDSA
John Ross, MD, FIDSA, Contributing Editor

Zika, a virus that was almost unknown just a short time ago, is now certain to spread to almost every country in the Americas. But why have the U.S. and other countries become more vulnerable to the threat of exotic pathogens? There currently aren’t enough data to make any solid connections, but many experts agree that the rise of global trade and travel, climate change, and ecosystem changes are all major factors.

What you need to know about Zika virus

John Ross, MD, FIDSA
John Ross, MD, FIDSA, Contributing Editor

Zika, a formerly rare and obscure virus, has recently spread throughout the Pacific islands and the Americas. Although Zika virus rarely makes people seriously ill, it’s been implicated in a huge rise in the number of birth defects in babies born to mothers who’ve had Zika. Although its impact in the U.S. is expected to be much less severe than in warmer climates, we’ve listed some tips to reduce your exposure to the type of mosquito that carries Zika.

New cures for hepatitis C — but are they affordable?

Gregory Curfman, MD
Gregory Curfman, MD, Editor in Chief, Harvard Health Publications

Recently, several new drugs have been developed to treat hepatitis C, a serious viral infection that can cause severe liver damage if allowed to run unchecked. But these new drugs are incredibly expensive, and are unaffordable for many people who need them. Until drugs for hepatitis C (and other high-cost drugs) are priced at affordable levels, many people will be left unable to benefit from modern advances in drug therapy.

“Not Again!” — When UTIs won’t quit at midlife

Hope Ricciotti, MD
Hope Ricciotti, MD, Editor in Chief, Harvard Women's Health Watch

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) occur in women of all ages. Physical and hormonal changes can leave women at midlife particularly vulnerable. No woman should have to put up with the inconvenience and discomfort of recurrent UTIs. Self-help measures can be effective, but if they don’t do the trick, see your doctor. He or she can identify and treat any underlying problems and recommend other strategies to keep UTIs at bay.

Despite an Ebola death in the U.S., the likelihood of an epidemic here is low

Beverly Merz
Beverly Merz, Executive Editor, Harvard Women's Health Watch

The New York Times has described Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person to die of Ebola virus infection in the United States, as “the Liberian man at the center of a widening health scare.” Use of the term “health scare” about Ebola in the U.S. just isn’t warranted, according to a consensus of several Harvard experts who have looked at Ebola through different lenses. They give four main reasons why an epidemic of Ebola virus disease isn’t likely to happen here: 1) the virus is relatively difficult to spread; 2) we have an effective emergency-response infrastructure; 3) Most hospitals are equipped to treat Ebola safely; and 4) new treatments are in the works.