SMC Science Deadline: Zika fears, breastfeeding benefits and
Issue 359, 29 Jan 2016
In this issue:
spread Breastfeeding Albatross TV SAVVY
Top news from scimex.org the Science Media Centre's news sharing platform.
New from the SMC
Applications still open forWellington two-day workshop in Feb 2016
New from the SMC global network
Fears over Zika virus spread
As concern over the current outbreak of the mosquito-spread Zika virus grows, the WHO is pulling together an emergency committee.
At a briefing this morning the World Health Organisation's Director-General, Dr Margaret Chan, warned the virus was "spreading explosively" in the Americas.
The virus, initially thought only to cause mild fever and rashes, has now been tentatively linked to increases in the incidence ofmicrocephaly – incomplete brain development – in newborns.
As of today, cases have been reported in 23 countries and territories in the region. The virus is likely to spread to all countries in the Americas except for Canada and Chile, the WHO warned earlier in the week.
In response to the growing concern the WHO will be convening an Emergency Committee to meet next week.
"The level of concern is high, as is the level of uncertainty," said Dr Chan. "Questions abound. We need to get some answers quickly."
The New Zealand Ministry of Health has welcomed the WHO's plans and this afternoon announced it will be publishing weekly updates on Zika surveillance.
The Ministry also disclosed that there have been nine cases of Zika detected in New Zealand this year. Their release was quick to point out that Zika infected travellers arriving here is not unexpected; in 2014, there were 57 cases detected in New Zealand.
Dr José Derraik, a Senior Research Fellow at the Liggins Institute, told the SMC that while there had been previous outbreaks in the South Pacific already, "the risk of an outbreak of Zika virus in New Zealand is low compared to many nations." The main mosquito species known to carry the virus are not found New Zealand.
"However," he added, "we do not know whether the mosquitoes present in New Zealand can transmit Zika virus.”
Read more expert commentary on the Science Media Centre website.
Breastfeeding boost required
Authors of world's biggest breastfeeding study say we need to lift our game to give children the best start in life.
Millions of children are failing to receive the full benefits provided by breastfeeding, according to a commissioned Lancet series, published today. The study presents the largest and most detailed analysis to quantify levels, trends, and benefits of breastfeeding around the world.
Their results found that rates of breastfeeding were lower in high income countries compared to developing countries. Data from New Zealand indicated 44 percent of mothers are breastfeeding at 12 months - a higher proportion than in the US, UK, Canada or Australia.
The World health Organisation actively encourages breastfeeding noting that the practice is associated with: better child health and nutrition; higher cognitive abilities and lower obesity rates in adulthood. Breastfeeding also has benefits for mothers, significantly lowering the risk of breast cancer.
The Lancet study suggests that better breastfeeding practices could globally prevent over 800,000 child deaths and 20,000 deaths from breast cancer every year. It also reveals that failing to breastfeed costs the world's economy around NZ$470 billion - with New Zealand's estimated loss sitting around NZ$900 million.
The authors issue a number of recommendations, including:
• fostering positive societal attitudes towards breastfeeding
• regulating the infant formula industry
• removing structural and societal barriers that hinder women’s ability to breastfeed.
A New Zealand expert contacted by the SMC said Kiwis could be better at maintaining breastfeeding long-term.
"In New Zealand we have good initiation rates for breastfeeding; over 90 percent of women breastfeed in the first few days after birth. said Dr Louise Brough, a Senior Lecturer at Massey's Institute of Food Science and Technology. "However, after this there is a sharp drop off in breastfeeding."
"Breastfeeding is difficult. It is a learned art and women require support with latching the baby on and positioning to breastfeed effectively and without pain. Midwives are excellent supporters of women but they cannot be there 24 hours, so more wrap around services are required to help women when they have difficulties.
"Also many in New Zealand society think it’s acceptable to breastfeed a small infant, but are less comfortable with women breastfeeding a toddler - despite the fact that the WHO recommends women continue to breastfeed along with food until at least two years of age."
Read more about the study and further expert commentary on the Scimex.org.
Policy news & developments
Sci Challenge: The Our Land and Water National Science Challenge, which aims to enhance primary sector production and productivity while maintaining and improving land and water quality, was launched this week.
Revoked approval: The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) has revoked approval for 18 veterinary medicine and insecticide products because of the risk to people and the environment from recognised toxic compounds.
Horsetail biocontrol: The EPA seeking submissions on an application to introduce the horsetail weevil as a biological control agent for the weed field horsetail.
All albatross, all the time
A family of Northern royal albatross nesting on the Otago Peninsula have become internet stars thanks to a 24/7 live webcam set up by the Department of Conservation.
The Department launched the #royalcam at Taiaroa Head — the world’s only mainland Albatross colony — on Tuesday. The camera is trained on the nest of a chick born just last week, who will be tended to by both parents over the coming months.
“We are thrilled to share the life history of these awesome seabirds with the rest of New Zealand and the world,” said DOC’s threatened species ambassador Nicola Toki.
“Few people in the world have the chance to get this close to a nesting albatross chick. It’s quite amazing to look right into the nest to see the chick’s new beginning.”
According to DOC, viewers will be treated to scenes of "DOC rangers monitoring and caring for the chick, and challenges it is likely to face such as extremes of weather, vulnerability to predators and pests and reliance on its parents to provide it enough food to sustain it throughout winter."
The web-cam feed, which streams via YouTube, will monitor the chick over the next eight months, and already has over 1,600 subscribers.
You can watch the live feed and read a round up of New Zealand media coverage on the Science Media Centre website.
Sci Comm job opportunity
The Engagement Programme of the Deep South National Science Challenge (DSC) is seeking applications for a Public Engagement Coordinator position.
The Challenge team are looking for motivated individuals to take an active role in:
• Establishing broad public communication and two-way engagement about DSC-relevant climate change research to increase New Zealanders’ awareness of, and ability to access and use, DSC research outcomes such that they inform climate-related decisions.
• Maintaining communication of DSC progress (to the public, key stakeholders, and funders, DSC researchers and committees).
Read the full job description on the Deep South Challenge website.
Quoted: 3 News
"We're bringing them into this environment where they should explode..."
Zealandia manager of conservation Raewyn Empson on the introduction of new lizards to the wildlife sanctuary.