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    Infectious Diseases A-Z: Top public health threats

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Zika virus and antibiotic-resistant bacteria are among the top infectious disease concerns of health officials, says Dr. Gregory Poland, director of Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group. Dr. Poland's research team is developing a vaccine for Zika. There is currently no cure or vaccine for Zika. He offered these thoughts on the ongoing crisis.

"Just last month, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated that Zika was out of control, and we don't have a way to completely control Zika in the U.S. Our response plan is too little, too late. And I think what he was acknowledging by that is that not that there aren't effective things to do, but this virus came fast, and it had been ignored because the initial outbreaks in Africa and the Pacific had been relatively very minor outbreaks pretty much up  until 2014-2015. We now have local transmission in Florida. We have just recently learned of local transmission in Texas, and we have about 30 or more U.S. states that are at risk. We are in the winter-time right now, but I expect that other than the very Southern rim of U.S., we won't see a lot of activity. But, come spring, I think we are going to be in for a rude awakening in terms of damage this virus can do."

Watch: Dr. Gregory Poland discusses Zika and antibiotic-resistant drugs

The second major infectious disease public health issue, says Dr. Poland, is "the complications of bacteria that are resistant to multiple antibiotics, and particularly as it occurs in hospital settings then diffuses out in the community. We have some very bad bugs that are the result of misuse of antibiotics, primarily in other areas of the world but it occurs in the U.S., too. Anything that occurs anywhere else in the world is only a 12-to-24 hour plane ride to us in the U.S. Some of these bugs, for example Clostridium difficile, can be very difficult to treat. We now have a great option: fecal transplants. Terrible concept, but it is almost like magic in terms of how this works."

Antibiotic resistant bacteria refer to bacteria that have developed resistance to antibiotics that once were commonly used to treat them. In the U. S., at least 2 million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics, and at least 23,000 people die each year, according to the CDC.

What you can do to protect yourself from Zika and antibiotic resistant bacteria

  • The best defense against Zika virus infection is mosquito bite prevention.
  • Understand that common viral infections do not benefit from antibiotic treatment so avoid taking antibiotics unless necessary.

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Review related Zika posts from 2016:

Related antibiotic posts from 2016: