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Zika Virus and Sexual Transmission: New Studies Provide More Insight

Researchers in the United Kingdom, meanwhile, have mapped the first complete Zika virus genome derived from semen. Working with a sample obtained from a British male recovering from Zika contracted during travel to Guadeloupe (13 days after symptom onset), the scientists were able to isolate viral DNA. Their findings were published on October 13 by the journal Genome Announcements.
Using standard genetic analysis tools, as well as Zika virus PF13/251013-18 genome as a reference, the authors were able to map 2.4% of the genome in their patient sample to the reference, providing 99.3% genome coverage at a minimum depth of 5×. From this, they were able to produce a consensus genome sequence that “aligned well with other sequences of [the virus] from the outbreak.” They believe their findings will lead to better understanding of “possible viral polymorphisms resulting from infection in different cellular environments.”
“Isolating Zika virus from semen has been a major challenge and little information has been published on this specific topic, so the methods we adopted may provide a template for others to follow," study co-author Barry Atkinson, of Public Health England, said in a statement released by Genome Announcements in conjunction with publication of the study. “We have many unanswered questions about how Zika virus is able to be transmitted sexually… It is possible that the answers to these questions lie in the viral genome, but many more sequences from semen are required before scientists can see if there are any changes that shed light on this topic.”
Brian P. Dunleavy is a medical writer and editor based in New York. His work has appeared in numerous healthcare-related publications. He is the former editor of Infectious Disease Special Edition.
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