How extreme weather may have impacted Zika, US drug approvals drop and a broad-spectrum strategy for snake bites. 

Was El Niño Behind Zika?

(Washington Post, 12/19/16, Chelsea Harvey)

A study this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences bolsters evidence that unusually warm temperatures caused by 2015’s severe El Niño event may have aided in the rapid spread of Zika. Scientists from the University of Liverpool collected published information on the distribution of the two mosquito species that transmit Zika and how temperature variations can affect them. The researchers also collected global historical climate data from the past few decades and used all the information to build a model of Zika transmission worldwide.  The model produced an unusually high disease transmission potential in the tropics for the year 2015, including in Colombia and Brazil, the countries hit hardest by Zika. Similar results occurred between 1997 and 1998, one of the only other times on record to experience such a brutal El Niño event.

Drug Approvals Plummet

(Nature, 12/19/16, Heidi Ledford)

The US Food and Drug Administration approved about half the number of drugs in 2016 as it did the previous year, putting it on track for its lowest year since 2007. The FDA approved 45 new drugs last year, the highest in nearly 20 years. The drop was attributed to the speedy review of drugs approved ahead of schedule in 2015, and the fact that the agency rejected more drugs than usual.

A Landmark Antidote for Snake Bite

(Science, 12/20/16, Robert Service)  

A research team led by Ken Shea, a chemist at the University of California, Irvine has devised nanoparticles that sop up a variety of common venom toxins in test tube studies, a key stride in coming up with the first ever broad-spectrum snake antivenom. The strategy could eventually be used to combat toxins from scorpions, spiders, bees, and other venomous creatures. The strategy gets around a major problem in treating snake bites with antivenom—which doesn’t always target the right toxins.  

A Look Back at Zika

(The Scientist, 12/20/16, Joshua Krisch)

The mosquito-born Zika virus now linked to birth defects was a major public health story in 2016. But unlike the Ebola virus that broke out in West Africa the year before, little was known about Zika as it swept through the Southern Hemisphere and even invade some southern US states. Here’s a catalog of news stories put together by The Scientist that chronicles major developments in this public health crisis that is still ongoing.

—Compiled by Senior Scientific Writer Regina McEnery