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Going viral: Insights on Zika

October 13, 2016

The Zika virus (ZIKV) is not a new contagion; researchers have known about the virus since the 1950s. However, not much was known about the virus until recent outbreaks cropped up with debilitating impacts.

While searching for targets that could be used to generate antibodies against the virus, biologists from Michigan Technological University set out to bring together all the available information about new Zika research. Their review paper, published in BioMed Central's Journal of Virology (DOI: 10.1186/s12985-016-0623-2) last week, provides a comprehensive overview of the virus, its history, the multiple modes of transmission and connections to miscarriage risks and how dengue virus infection may exacerbate ZIKV infection.

The key message of the paper is that Zika is not only transmitted through mosquito bites, says study author Ebenezer Tumban, an assistant professor of biological sciences at Michigan Tech.

"There is a lot we still don't know about Zika," he says, but new insights do provide some guidance. "Sexual transmission is a major risk that isn't widely discussed, as is screening for Zika in blood transfusions."

In addition to a more complicated transmission scheme than previously thought, new research on Zika suggests that mothers infected with the virus can have a miscarriage as well.

A virus' replication/infection process is very complex--it makes more copies of itself only when it is inside cells and, during the infection of cells, it can even interact with antibodies produced against other viral infections. In particular, dengue virus antibodies have been shown to enhance Zika infections in cells. Recent research illuminated this double whammy, although less attention has been given to the risks that may be associated with being vaccinated against dengue virus (in countries where dengue virus vaccine is approved) and how that vaccine may affect Zika virus infection.

Tumban's research group is moving ahead to assess whether Zika virus antigens they are developing can generate antibodies against the virus, which is the foundation of a vaccine. His team will join with hundreds of other scientists working to lessen the impacts of Zika both at home and around the world. The new review paper is a launching pad to bring more awareness to all aspects of Zika and inform the whole community of biologists, epidemiologists and clinical staff.
-end-


Michigan Technological University

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