One year ago, we were prepping for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. News reporters and media outlets were closely following Team USA hopefuls for some of the popular sports as well as athletes from other countries. Another topic that was also being closely followed by news media around the world was the spreading Zika virus and what impact it might have on those planning to attend the 2016 Olympic Games.
Today, updates on the Zika virus are still being reported, although not as frequently as one year ago, however, this virus is no less problematic and is still a threat. “From 2016 to current, more cases of Zika infection have been seen in Cuba, Mexico, the Caribbean, the Bahamas and Tahiti. Zika has been found in certain counties in Miami as well as Brownsville, Texas,” says Dr. Yvonne Bohn, an OB/GYN based in Los Angeles. [Ref 1] As a reminder, the virus is carried by Aedes aegypti and albopictus mosquitoes. The female mosquitoes only bite during the day and not at night.
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases reported that they have successfully completed the first phase of human testing for their vaccine. [Ref 2] The vaccine resulted in an immune response among 40 people, without causing any serious side effects. The organization indicates that they are now ready to enter the second round of human testing. The Phase II trial will involve around 2,500 healthy men and women, ages 15 to 32, at 11 locations across the U.S., Mexico and Brazil. Researchers expect to complete Phase II by 2019.
Elsewhere, researchers are mapping the Zika virus to trace its spread and transmission as reported in Wired Magazine (online edition). [Ref 3] Brazil reported its first case of Zika virus in April 2015, and by the time the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Zika a global health emergency nearly a year later, the outbreak had spread to 26 countries and territories in the Americas, infecting hundreds of thou-sands of people and leaving many babies with an incurable develop-mental defect called microcephaly. The scientific mapping study has revealed that Zika had established itself in Brazil as early as 2013.
This revelation comes from the same group of seasoned researchers who used genetics to help stop Ebola’s spread through Sierra Leone in 2014. They sequenced more than 100 new Zika genomes, taken from patients and mosquitoes throughout the Americas, and traced the virus’ spread from Brazil to the countries next door, into the Caribbean and then the US. The goal of reconstructing Zika’s genetic history is to help drug developers look for a cure, and public health officials develop containment strategies faster!
The New York Times reported a case of fraternal twins that has presented some astounding challenges for those researching the Zika virus as well as potential vaccines or other remedies for this disease. [Ref 4] In Paulista, Brazil, Ana Vitoria da Silva Araujo, a 1-year old, demonstrates the expected developmental milestones that one would should see for a toddler in her age range. Her brother, João Lucas, on the other hand exhibits behavior of a new born. Their mother was bitten by a Zika infected mosquito during pregnancy. Lucas was born with microcephaly and other serious problems, however, his sister, Ana, appears to have been spared from these adverse birth defects.
The unique case of these twins may yield clues to medical mysteries because their biological similarities allow scientists to identify relevant differences. Determining why one twin became infected in the womb while the other did not may magnify how Zika crosses the placenta, how it enters the brain, and whether any genetic mutations make a fetus more resistant or susceptible to Zika infection. The siblings are one of nine sets of twins identified in Brazil’s Zika crisis, and scientists hope they can shed light on how the virus works generally and why it inflicts ruthless damage on some babies and not others.
As a reminder, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) advises that the best way to protect you and your family members against contracting the Zika virus is to avoid mosquito bites. In addition, here are some steps to control mosquitoes inside and outside of your home:
- Use screens on windows and doors. Repair holes in screens to keep mosquitoes outside.
- Use air conditioning when available.
o Sleep under a mosquito bed net if air conditioned or screened rooms are not available or if sleeping outdoors.
- Once a week, empty and scrub, turn over, cover, or throw out items that hold water, such as tires, buckets, planters, toys, pools, birdbaths, flowerpots, or trash containers. Check inside and outside your home. Mosquitoes lay eggs near water.
- Zika Update for Summer 2017: All the Latest You Need to Know Before Booking Your Travel, Yes, it’s still a threat, by Lindsay Ti-gar for Bravo TV, June 22, 2017, http://www.bravotv.com/blogs/zika-and-summer-2017-travel-destinations
- Zika Virus Updates – Latest News, April 3, 2017, https://www.sharecare.com/health/zika-virus/article/zika-virus-update-latest-news
- Virus Hunters Draw a Map of Zika’s Spread With DNA, by Megan Molteni for Wired Magazine, https://www.wired.com/2017/05/virus-hunters-draw-map-zikas-spread-dna/?mbid=nl_52417_p3&CNDID=
- Clues to Zika Damage Might Lie in Cases of Twins, by Pam Bel-luck and Tania Francomay, May 1, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/01/health/zika-twins-transmission-theo-ries.html?em_pos=large&emc=edit_sc_20170502&nl=science-times&nlid=58109710&ref=headline&te=1&_r=0