Friday, January 29, 2016

Zika Virus: It Came from Uganda?

Even though the “face of Zika virus” presented by the press has so far been microcephaly afflicted infants from Brazil, but did you know that the Zika virus was originally from a Ugandan forest? 

By: Ringo Bones 

At the moment, the “face of Zika virus” or the overall picture of it presented by the world’s main news providers has been so far microcephaly afflicted infants from Brazil – mainly from Rio de Janeiro – which has so far raised fears that this year’s Summer Olympic Games which will be held this coming August could potentially trigger a pandemic that could help spread the Zika virus across the world or at least something akin to the previous Ebola virus epidemic across West Africa during the latter half of 2014. The Zika virus in current affected regions are mainly transmitted by daytime-active mosquitoes and has been isolated from a number of species in the genus Aedes, such as Aedes aegypti and various arboreal mosquitoes such as Aedes africanus. Despite of the current anxiety over the Zika virus, does the general population know that the virus originally came from a remote jungle in Uganda and that it was first discovered almost 70 years ago? 

In 1947, scientists researching yellow fever placed a rhesus macaque in a cage in the Zika Forest (zika meaning “overgrown” in the Luganda language), near the East African Virus Research Institute in Entebbe, Uganda. The monkey then developed a fever and researchers isolated from its serum a transmissible agent that was first described as Zika virus in 1952. It was subsequently isolated from a human in Nigeria in 1954. Thanks to the increased travel due to the 1960s "Jet Age", the Zika virus is now widely distributed in tropical equatorial regions across the world. From its discovery until 2007, confirmed cases of Zika virus infection from Africa and Southeast Asia were extremely rare, thus explains why no work was ever done in developing a Zika virus vaccine since the virus’ discovery back in 1947. And health authorities have announced that an effective vaccine against the Zika virus won’t be available for at least 10 or even 12 years. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control, Brazilian health authorities reported more than 3,500 microcephaly cases between October 2015 and January 2016. Some of the affected infants have has a severe type of microcephaly and some have died. The full spectrum of outcomes that might be associated with infection during pregnancy and the factors that might increase risk to fetuses are not yet fully understood. More studies are planned to learn more about the risks of Zika virus infection during pregnancy. In the worst affected region of Brazil approximately 1 percent of newborns are suspected of microcephaly. The current Zika virus epidemic in Brazil had caused debilitating health problems in newborns hitherto unseen since the teratogenic effects of thalidomide surfaced back in the 1960s.