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article imageNew model for predicting Zika virus infection rates

By Tim Sandle     Apr 25, 2016 in Science
Zika virus disease is easily transmitted. However, in the majority of people the disease is asymptomatic — symptoms appear in only one in four people, mostly as a mild fever. To find out why, a new study has been running.
In order to assess the risks of Zika virus in people, scientists are carrying out research using a mouse-based animal model. The aim of the research is to predict why some people develop symptoms and others do not; Zika is symptomatic in one in four people. Moreover, the research attempts to understand what is happening with infections in the mother on unborn babies. It is hoped the insights gained can form the basis for new therapeutic treatments.
While Zika virus disease produces symptoms in a relatively small proportion of those infected, it can damage the unborn child carried by pregnant women (affecting the brain of the developing baby through a condition called microcephaly.) Understanding this, and to see if the disease manifestations are related, is the ongoing subject of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis research.
To date, the scientists have shown that, on infection, high levels of the virus are detected in the mouse brain and spinal cord. This matches what is thought to happen in human foetuses, in terms of neurological defects.
One interesting observation gained so far is that the levels of the virus are considerably higher in male mice compared with female mice. This appears to add weight to the epidemiological findings that the virus can be transmitted through sexual intercourse, from a man to a woman.
The research findings came from robust testing. Here a series of mice are being challenged with five different strains of Zika virus, one of which dated back to the first recorded instances in the late 1940s (this was in Nigeria, in 1947.)
Speaking with Laboratory Roots magazine, lead researcher Dr. Michael Diamond commented: “Now that we know the mice can be vulnerable to Zika infection, we can use the animals to test vaccines and therapeutics–and some of those studies are already underway–as well as to understand the pathogenesis of the virus.”
The research is published in the journal Cell Host & Microbe. The paper is called “A Mouse Model of Zika Virus Pathogenesis.”
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