Described for the first time in Uganda in 1947, Zika is an arbovirus belonging to the same family as dengue and yellow fever. These viral diseases are transmitted by mosquitoes in the Aedes genus, like the yellowfever mosquito (Aedes aegypti) and the Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus).
The first cases were confirmed in Brazil in May 2015, and the country is currently experiencing the largest epidemic ever recorded with 440,000 to 1,300,000 suspected cases reported by the Brazilian health authorities. The Zika virus has spread quickly, affecting 10 countries in the tropical regions of the Americas as well as the Caribbean. Until recently the infection was considered relatively harmless, but in Brazil and other countries they have noticed a very significant increase in the number of microcephaly cases in fetuses whose mothers were infected during pregnancy.
According to the Mayo Clinic, “Microcephaly (my-kroh-SEF-uh-lee) is a rare neurological condition in which an infant’s head is significantly smaller than the heads of other children of the same age and sex. Sometimes detected at birth, microcephaly usually is the result of the brain developing abnormally in the womb or not growing as it should after birth.”
Now the Institut Pasteur in French Guiana has sequenced the complete genome of the Zika virus, and has published it in The Lancet.
“Until now, few complete sequences of this virus and none of the strains currently circulating in South and Central America were available,” said Dominique Rousset, one of the co-authors. “This complete sequence of the virus is a major starting point for shedding light on how its behavior develops.”
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