Why this is important to Wisconsin businesses: Opportunities for Wisconsin suppliers of diagnostic tests, reagents, medical products and insecticides

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) says Latin America will eventually have between 2 million and 3 million cases of the Zika virus, warning that the 100,000 cases reported thus far do not reflect the magnitude of the situation because many infected people with either no symptoms or very mild ones do not visit a doctor. “That figure does not represent the scope we think Zika has. We need better diagnostic tests. Brazil has already estimated that it will have 1.3 million (cases) and Colombia a half million,” Marcos Espinal, the director of PAHO’s Department of Communicable Diseases and Health Analysis, said at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting in Washington.

The expert based his estimate on Latin America’s 2015 tally of 2.3 million cases of dengue and 600,000 of chikungunya – viral diseases that, like Zika, are transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. “It wouldn’t surprise me if we had 2 or 3 million Zika cases because we’re seeing that the mosquito transmits (that disease) as or more effectively than chikungunya,” Espinal said. Latin America is the region hardest hit by the current Zika epidemic, accounting for 26 of the 30 countries and territories where local transmission of the virus has been reported. “The entire population is at risk because the virus is new in the hemisphere, and therefore no one has immunity,” Espinal said.

Medical epidemiologist Rodrigo Marin Rodriguez, the newly appointed coordinator of Costa Rica’s National Disease Vector Control Program, said that Costa Rica could see up to 60,000 cases of Zika infection in a worst-case scenario in an interview published by La Nacion on Jan. 29, 2016.

Marin bases his worst-case scenario on estimates from Colombia, which currently has an indigenous outbreak of Zika and where conditions are very similar to Costa Rica.

According to Marin, officials there expect 600,000 cases of Zika and 500 cases of microcephaly, in a country of 50 million inhabitants. Given the similarities between the two countries, Marin thus estimates that Costa Rica could see some 60,000 Zika cases amongst the country’s 5 million inhabitants.

Marin said that the government plans to aggressively eliminate mosquito breeding sites throughout the country, but urged the public to also do their part in ensuring to eliminate mosquito breeding sites in and around their homes, and to take all measures possible to avoid mosquito bites.

To support prevention and treatment programs including massive collection campaigns, caravans against Aedes aegypti and active social communication media activity, many products will need to be imported. Opportunities for Wisconsin companies to supply products for fighting the Zika virus include:

  • diagnostic tools
  • insect repellents
  • antiviral therapies
  • therapeutics
  • vaccines
  • genetically modified male mosquitoes
  • condoms
  • pest control programs
  • software for tracking public health issues
  • laboratory disposables and equipment (clinical chemistry analyzers, ELISA instruments, etc.)

Wisconsin companies can also connect with UW-Madison researchers are currently working on the Zika virus. Pathobiological sciences Professor Jorge Osorio and research scientist Matthew Aliota, who were first to identify the Zika virus circulating in Colombia in October, provide virology expertise. Ted Golos, professor of obstetrics and comparative biosciences, studies how other infections during pregnancy impact newborn health. The research group has extensive experience with viruses (such as HIV and influenza) in humans and nonhuman primates, and their work will be conducted in secure facilities designed for the safe study of potentially harmful viruses. The researchers will track the effects of initial infections, but also try to establish whether one Zika virus infection provides some protection against future infection, as with chicken pox.