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Thursday, February 4

NEWS

Michigan Tech Lode

Zika virus outbreak

Dr. Ebenezer Tumban, Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences (Left). A Doctor draws blood from Luana, who was born with microcephaly in Recife, Brazil. Left Photo courtesy of Michigan Tech. Right Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Sumit Pant News Writer The Zika Virus outbreak in Latin America could be a bigger threat to global health than the Ebola epidemic last year, which killed more than 11,000 people in Africa. The World Health Organization has warned that with rapid spreading of the virus, as many as four million people could be infected by the end of the year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised pregnant women not to travel to the Caribbean and Latin American countries where the outbreak is growing at an alarming rate. Government officials in Latin and Central American countries have also urged their women to avoid pregnancy until it’s declared safe. Only two countries in the Americas, namely Canada and Chile, would not be affected by this virus because the climate in these two countries doesn’t favor the survival of Zika Virus-carrying mosquitoes. Cases of Zika Virus have started to emerge in the United States as well, with 36 people diagnosed with the virus. These cases are all across the country including 11 states and Washington D.C. According to health officials, all those infected patients came into contact with the virus outside

Cases of the Zika Virus have started to emerge in the United States.

the United States. Dr. Ebenezer Tumban, Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences at Michigan Tech explains that the Zika virus is a virus transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes, which are also infamous for the spread of dengue, yellow fever and Chikungunya viruses. These viruses (except Chikungunya) belong to the Flaviviridae virus family and their genomes are made up of RNA. He further explains that the symptoms after getting infected with this virus includes fever, headache, joint pains, rash and conjunctivitis. Most of these symptoms are similar to those of dengue and Chikungunya viral infections. Dr. Tumban further recommends taking full rest and drinking lots of fluids in case of being diagnosed with Zika virus.

With 80 percent of affected people showing no symptoms, Tumban urged staying away from areas that have Aedes mosquitoes, using mosquito repellents and covering your body if you are visiting such areas. Furthermore, Tumban explained that “due to the abilities of the Aedes sp. mosquitoes to thrive only in warm tropical climate including some parts of southern United States, the possibility of Zika virus carry Aedes mosquitoes in the UP is unlikely during this time of the year.” Moreover, due to the lack of a vector for transmission of the virus in the UP, the virus poses no serious threat at the moment. The only possibility of the virus making its way into the UP would be if the mosquitoes somehow travel from the affected country to the UP through some physical means. The virus has been associated with a devastating birth defect. Tumban elucidates that babies are infected with the virus from the mother through the placenta. The virus causes neurodevelopmental problems and the babies are born with abnormally small heads; a condition known as microcephaly. Tumban has research experience working with flaviviruses like the Zika virus. He has worked with dengue virus in the past trying to understand what makes the virus uniqely transmitted by Aedes

“...the possibilty of Zika viruscarrying Aedes mosquitoes in the UP is unlikely...” - Dr. Tumban mosquitoes; published in http://www. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21216984. He thinks the most challenging question that researchers in the field need to address is why the Zika virus causes microcephaly in newborn babies but not dengue and Chikungunya viral infections even though they all cause the same symptoms in adults. He says the genome size, and genome organization of Zika and dengue viruses are almost the same. He concluded by saying he may continue, in the near future, to work on flaviviruses given the current threat they pose. He is currently working on enhancing the body’s immune response against human papillomaviruses; the viruses that cause cervical, penile, and anal cancers.

02/04/2016  

This is the February 4, 2016 issue of The Michigan Tech Lode.