7 Deadly Key Proteins of Zika Virus Identified But US Will Not Face Major Zika Outbreak

While more information on the Zika virus is revealed, researchers are saying that the United States can rest a little easier over concerns of a large-scale outbreak.

At this same time last year, the world learned how devastating the damage from a Zika virus infection can be, but we were still no closer to understanding the parts of the virus that contribute to these damaging effects. Researchers from the University of Maryland School of Science, however, may have now found the answers we have been looking for.

The Zika virus has been linked with causing neurological disorders such as Guillain-Barré syndrome, but most predominately with birth defects, such as microcephaly. Until now, the exact facets of the virus that cause these disorders have been unknown, but a new study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, includes information on 7 proteins in the virus that may hold the clues.

As detailed in a recent press release, researchers used, “fission yeast, a species that in recent years has become a relatively common way to test how pathogens affect cells [to study the virus]. Fission yeast was originally used to make beer, particularly in Africa, where it originated. (Its species name is Schizosaccharomyces pombe; pombe means beer in Swahili.) Over decades, fission yeast has been used by many scientists to find out mechanisms and behavior of cells.”

The researchers were able to separate “each of the virus's 14 proteins and small peptides from the overall virus.” After exposing the proteins to the yeast, they noted that 7 of the proteins “harmed or damaged the yeast cells in some way, inhibiting their growth, damaging them, or killing them.”

According to Richard Zhao, professor of pathology at the University of Maryland School of Science, and lead researcher on the study, “These results give us crucial insight into how Zika affects cells. We now have some really valuable clues for future research.”

As researchers continue to learn more about the Zika virus, it seems that those who live in the United States will not have to worry about a large-scale outbreak in the country, despite favorable climate conditions.

According to a press release on new research published in the Journal of Medical Entomology, while the climate of the country is “increasing favorable to mosquitoes, socioeconomic factors such as access to clean water and air conditioning make large-scale outbreaks unlikely… but small-scale localized outbreaks are an ongoing concern.”

The researchers argue that the single-most leading factor of a large-scale outbreak of mosquito-borne diseases is the “low socioeconomic conditions in developing countries.” These conditions include a lack of air conditioning and screened windows, as well as household water storage, which provides access for the mosquitoes to bite their hosts and reproduce. Although incidence of these risk factors appear in the southern regions of the United States, only small, localized outbreaks are to be expected.

According to the authors, “It seems clear that the main factors keeping outbreaks of these diseases from occurring today are socioeconomic such as lifestyle, housing infrastructure, and good sanitation. While such conditions are maintained, it seems unlikely that large scale local transmission will occur, especially in northern states." The country is more likely to receive imported cases of the Zika virus from developing countries where the disease is endemic.

These findings highlight once again the particular importance of sanitation and running water in developing countries and underscore a need for further investment in infrastructure and disaster planning in developed countries, according to the authors. “If the isolation between humans and Ae. aegypti mosquitoes in the United States is primarily caused by lifestyle and living infrastructure associated to socioeconomic conditions, these could be threatened by massive natural disasters, or any other event that disrupts current infrastructure," the authors write.