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Research priorities for the Zika virus include a better understanding of how it differs from highly similar, well known viruses carried by the same family of mosquitos, finds an insightful viewpoint recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
HM Lazear, EM stringer, AM de Silva. (2016). The emerging zika virus epidemic in the Americas research priorities. Journal of the American Medical Association. 2016: doi:10.1001/jama.2016.2899.
The viewpoint's three authors explain the Zika virus' genetic family is very similar to dengue, West Nile, and yellow fever (which are carried — and transmitted to humans - by the same family of mosquitos). Incidentally, the current strain of the Zika virus (that is identified with birth defects in infants as well as other health disorders in some Caribbean, Central and South American nations) is called ZIKV. Most alarmingly, ZIKV may be associated with the development of microcephaly, which can result in infants born with a smaller than normal head.
The authors write (and we quote): 'Sequence analyses show that ZIKV isolates from South America are similar to those from French Polynesia, suggesting that the virus was introduced to Brazil by an infected traveler or mosquito from the South Pacific' (end of quote).
However, the authors suggest the comparative virus sequences are not identical... (and we quote): 'and there is even greater divergence from historical African isolates (of the Zika virus)' (end of quote).
The authors add (and we quote): 'it is unknown whether specific changes in ZIKV (ie. new viral strains) are responsible for the unexpected disease patterns in the current pandemic' (end of quote).
Among an array of initiatives, the authors explain that cell cultures and research on mosquitos and other animals are needed to compare the replication, genetic path, and transmission of historic and current ZIKV strains.
The authors suggest more precise diagnostic tools also need to be developed for both the Zika virus and some of its health effects. For example, the authors note microcephaly currently cannot be reliably diagnosed until 24 to 28 weeks during a pregnancy and sometimes is not evident until birth.
Besides improved diagnostic tools, the authors explain researchers need to better understand the biological pathways that occur after an infectious mosquito bite through the development of human illnesses or birth defects.
Overall, the authors suggest the Zika virus is the most recent example of an epidemic that occurs after the introduction of a virus within a new population in a different region of the world. Besides improving diagnostic tools, treatment and prevention options, the authors conclude (and we quote): 'public health efforts to address the current epidemic must be informed by experience with previous outbreaks of viruses transmitted (by the same family of) mosquitos' (end of quote).
Meanwhile, MedlinePlus.gov provides a guide to the Zika virus (from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — the CDC) within the 'start here' section of MedlinePlus.gov's Zika virus health topic page. A link to Zika information for pregnant women (also from the CDC) additionally is available within the 'start here' section of MedlinePlus.gov's Zika virus health topic page.
The CDC provides a concise, easy-to-read guide to control the family of mosquitos that spread Zika, dengue and related viruses within the 'resources' section of MedlinePlus.gov's Zika virus health topic page.
MedlinePlus.gov's Zika virus health topic page also provides links to the latest pertinent journal research articles, which are available in the 'journal articles' section. Links to clinical trials that may be occurring in your area are available in the 'clinical trials' section. You can sign up to receive updates about the Zika virus as they become available on MedlinePlus.gov.
To find MedlinePlus.gov's Zika virus health topic page, please type 'Zika' in the search box on MedlinePlus.gov's home page, then, click on 'Zika virus (National Library of Medicine).'
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