Zika Update

Virus found in amniotic fluid; scientists consider links to mental illness, global warming, dengue, and Guillain-Barré syndrome

By | February 19, 2016

PUBLIC HEALTH IMAGE LIBRARY, CDCAbout three dozen countries worldwide are now reporting local transmission of the Zika virus, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control announced today (February 19).

Strengthening the link between infection and microcephaly in babies, scientists reported Wednesday (February 17) in The Lancet Infectious Diseases having found the virus in the amniotic fluid of two women who experienced Zika virus infection–related symptoms while pregnant. Both of their babies were diagnosed with microcephaly.

Coauthor Ana de Filippis of the Oswaldo Cruz Institute in Rio de Janeiro told BBC News that the results suggest “the virus could cross the placental barrier and potentially infect the fetus.” However, it does not prove Zika is to blame for the babies’ birth defects. “Until we understand the biological mechanism linking Zika to microcephaly we cannot be certain that one causes the other, and further research is urgently needed,” de Filippis said.

In addition to microcephaly, researchers are closely watching instances of Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) in countries with circulating Zika virus. The neurological condition causes temporary paralysis, and two people in the U.S. with GBS have also tested positive for Zika.

“I think we can say that the link between Zika and Guillain-Barre looks strong and would not be at all surprising,” Tom Frieden, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told Time. “We’ve seen similar postinfection complications after many different infections, including some that are quite similar to Zika. That is a link that’s getting stronger.”

Without hard answers about Zika, alternative hypotheses have popped up, including a recent proposal that a mosquito larvicide is behind the increase in microcephaly in Brazil. One state in Brazil even stopped treating water with the pesticide. However, the explanation has little basis in biology; there is no evidence to back up claims that the chemical is dangerous to fetuses.

“Even enormous quantities of pyriproxyfen do not cause the defects seen during the recent Zika outbreak,” Ian Musgrave of the University of Adelaide told the Huffington Post.

Some scientists have proposed that Zika infection may be responsible for much more than microcephaly in babies; the virus has recently been linked to vision problems. Pathogenic infections in utero are also known to be able to cause mental illnesses later on. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a big upswing in A.D.H.D., autism, epilepsy and schizophrenia” in regions where Zika is circulating, W. Ian Lipkin of Columbia University told The New York Times.

And the Zika epidemic may be compounded by two other factors: dengue virus and global warming. Some infectious disease researchers have proposed that a previous case of dengue virus could make a Zika infection worse, via “antibody-dependent enhancement.”

“I think it’s in the back of all of our minds,” Michael Diamond of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, told STAT News. “We don’t know. But I think those of us in the field think it could.”

Global warming may only fan the flames of mosquito-borne diseases. “Over the coming decades, global warming is likely to increase the range and speed the life cycle of the particular mosquitoes carrying these viruses, encouraging their spread deeper into temperate countries like the United States,” the New York Times reported yesterday.

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Avatar of: dmarciani


Posts: 53

February 19, 2016

It would be better if the writer would have resisted the temptation to mix real science with voodoo science. The immune potentiation is a very good possibility backed by real scientific data derived from dengue. The global warming is an attempt of using a tragedy to justify dubious science. As far as I know, I never have seen a scientific article authored by writers from the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal or any regular newspaper. A few hundred years ago before “global warming,” malaria was very common in Europe and it was eradicated by taking care of areas that favored the mosquito reproduction. I believe that The Scientist to honor its name should focus on real science and not “political” science, for that we have already too many publications.

Avatar of: jdevola


Posts: 11

Replied to a comment from dmarciani made on February 19, 2016

February 19, 2016

What "voodoo" science?  First, global warming is real, as has been established as legitimate science by numerous experts in the field.  Second, the author only indicated that global warming may compound the problems associated with these tropical viruses.  I have never heard of malaria being endemic to Europe, but even if it was, it is clearly endemic to tropical regions today.  Clearly, as  climatic ranges expand, so will the range of viruses endemic to such regions.

Avatar of: grande


Posts: 1

February 19, 2016

Why is this article quoting wild speculations about schizophrenia, autism and ADHD? This sounds more like an excuse for the sharp rise in these diseases that is already happening....

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