How Could Zika Virus Harm Brain Cells

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Jan 18, 2017 02:55 PM EST

RECIFE, BRAZIL - JUNE 02: Dr. Stella Guerra performs physical therapy on an infant born with microcephaly at Altino Ventura Foundation on June 2, 2016 in Recife, Brazil. Microcephaly is a birth defect linked to the Zika virus where infants are born with abnormally small heads. The Brazilian city of Recife and surrounding Pernambuco state remain the epicenter of the Zika virus outbreak, which has now spread to many countries in the Americas. A group of health experts recently called for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games to be postponed or cancelled due to the Zika threat but the WHO (World Health Organization) rejected the proposal. (Photo : Getty Images/Mario Tama / Staff)

The outburst of Zika virus infection in Brazil in 2015 drew a traumatic incident and ushered the pathogen to worldwide concern. The virus was detected among enclosed monkeys in the Zika Forest of Uganda in 1947, but it was believed to be safe in humans.

Richard Zhao, a virologist at the University Of Maryland School Of Medicine said, "The entire world ignored this virus." The Zika outbreak in Brazil, as well as the birth defects, became an eye-opener towards the virus according to Newsweek.

Zika virus infected mothers were giving birth to infants with abnormally small heads called microcephaly. This deformity of the brain is associated with developmental delays, seizures, and other critical neurologic problems.

According to CDC, pregnant women should not travel to areas with Zika. They must protect themselves from acquiring Zika during sex if their sex partner came from a place with Zika. They should also communicate with their doctor or healthcare provider once exposed to Zika.

At first, it's uncertain whether the virus was causing the defects or not. The World Health Organization announced batches of microcephaly and Guillain-Barré syndrome to be a public health emergency in February 2016.

However, the cases were not eventually linked to Zika. Researchers from Florida State University and Johns Hopkins University then finally exhibited that Zika virus was absolutely the cause.

The microcephaly in the newborn was "an incredible surprise," says Mark Challberg. He supervises flavivirus study financed by the National Institutes of Health.

Zika, yellow fever, dengue, West Nile and hepatitis C are included in the flavivirus family. Zika, like other RNA viruses, mutates quickly and this mechanism harmed brain cells.

There are over 60 countries, including the United States that are affected by the pathogen proliferated via mosquitoes and sexual transmission in 2016, less than a year after. Brazil affirmed over 1,000 cases of microcephaly and other central nervous system defects clearly linked to Zika. Additional 4,000 cases are under investigation.

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