New mutation of Zika virus could threaten global epidemic, scientists warn

(ORDO NEWS) — Researchers at the La Jolla Immunology Institute (LJI) in San Diego, California, recently identified a new Zika virus mutation known as the NS2B I39V/I39T mutation that scientists have warned could cause the next global pandemic.

Their results echo recent warnings from the World Health Organization (WHO) earlier this month, which explained that the virus could mutate to become more virulent and more resistant to the immunity produced by similar infections.

The Zika virus is a viral infection that is spread by mosquitoes. This is the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is also known to spread dengue and chikungunya. Although the virus is transmitted mainly through bites, it can also be transmitted through intrauterine infection.

The Zika virus was first discovered in Uganda in 1947, where it was found only in monkeys. Five years after its discovery, the first human case of the Zika virus was identified. For almost 60 years after that, the Zika virus was detected only in isolated cases around the world.

It wasn’t until 2007 that the first real outbreak of the Zika virus was discovered, this time on Yap Island in the Pacific Ocean. In 2015, another major outbreak occurred in Brazil, leading to the discovery that the Zika virus could be linked to microcephaly, a condition in which babies are born with small and underdeveloped brains.

Now, after the discovery of a new, potentially more dangerous mutation, understanding the dangers of the Zika virus becomes extremely important. Next, we look at the dangers of the Zika virus, as well as the symptoms it can cause.

Is he dangerous ?

As mentioned earlier, the main concern around the Zika virus is related to the possibility of developing microcephaly, especially in pregnant women who have contracted this virus. Generally, the Zika virus is not considered particularly dangerous to anyone other than pregnant women.

Some countries with outbreaks of the Zika virus, such as Brazil, have reported significant increases in cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), a neurological disorder that can lead to paralysis and death, according to the WHO. A 2017 study done on confirmed cases of GBS in Brazil found a mortality rate of about 8.3%.

This link between Zika virus and Guillain-Barré syndrome is still relatively new to scientists, however current research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that GBS is closely related to Zika; however, only a small proportion of people with a recent Zika virus infection develop GBS.

The Zika virus, although not as common, can cause other post-infection symptoms, which we’ll cover next.

Symptoms

Fortunately, most people who become infected with the Zika virus do not develop any symptoms. However, when they do appear, most of the symptoms are flu-like: most people report a fever, body aches, and headaches.

The WHO states that these symptoms can usually be treated with common pain or fever medications, along with proper rest and hydration.

If symptoms worsen, it is recommended to seek immediate medical attention. Signs that you need to see a doctor may include a dengue-like rash or eye irritation.

Other common symptoms of the Zika virus include:

  • Fever
  • Rash
  • Headache Joint
  • Pain
  • Conjunctivitis (red eye)
  • Muscle pain

Typically, the incubation period for Zika virus is three to 14 days, with most cases lasting about one to two weeks. But if the Zika virus isn’t considered “highly dangerous,” then why do scientists think it could cause another global pandemic? Let’s get a look.

Although most people who become infected with the Zika virus have very few or no symptoms, the LJI researchers concluded that the Zika virus can mutate very easily and quickly under the conditions it would encounter in the real world, in such a way that it becomes more virulent and more resistant to immunity produced by similar infections.

The scientists conducted the study, published in the journal Cell Reports, by observing how the Zika virus mutated as it traveled between different cell lines and animals – specifically cultured human cells, mosquitoes and mice. This process mimics how a virus can move between different hosts in real life.

The team found that the Zika virus can easily create small mutations and jump from mosquitoes to mice. What’s more, they found that the virus was able to adapt even when certain cell lines were already immune to a similar virus, such as dengue.

The lead investigator of the study, Professor Sujan Shrestha, told the BBC: “The variant of Zika virus we identified has evolved to such an extent that the cross-protective immunity provided by previous dengue infection has ceased to work in mice. It is unfortunate for us if this variant becomes common, we may encounter the same problems in real life.”

While Shrestha’s warnings sound grim, many experts note that Zika poses a much smaller threat than other viruses that have caused global pandemics in the past, mainly COVID-19. This is because the Zika virus is much more difficult to transmit and much less contagious than COVID-19.

“This virus has the potential to be more dangerous to humans, but it has limited potential to become a COVID-level threat because it is transmitted primarily from insects to humans rather than human-to-human,” said Dr. William Hazeltine, biologist known for his work fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic, in a recent interview with Salon.

Simply put, since the Zika virus is mainly transmitted by mosquitoes, it is much more difficult for it to spread quickly through the population, which also makes it easier to contain. However, this does not mean that there is no cause for concern.

“It’s hard to predict what the future of this threat will be, but it’s worrisome and indicative of the many emerging infectious threats,” says Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association. “If we let down our guard and only worry about COVID-19, we will miss the next major outbreak.”

So, while Zika may not be the next COVID-19, it should still be taken seriously. If the last two and a half years have taught us anything, it’s that viral outbreaks must be monitored and when they do occur, they must be contained and treated appropriately.

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