Latest Zika Virus News and Discoveries in the US: Part One


The latest news regarding the spread of the Zika virus in the United States, and recent discoveries on how Zika infects the human brain is included in this article.

For the past year, the Zika virus has afflicted families across the Americas, causing one neurological complication after another. And, although mosquito season is drawing to a close in the Northern Hemisphere, it is starting anew in the Southern Hemisphere, and so additional cases of infection may resurface in these parts of the world. In addition, the Zika virus continues to evolve, if only minimally, as it travels across geographical borders and new information about the virus will conitinue to come to light. As such, it is important to stay up-to-date on the latest Zika virus news.

How Does the Zika Virus Infect the Brain?

Researchers previously discovered that the Zika virus is able to infect cells that contain AXL proteins, which can be found in neural stem cells. As a result, researchers even went on to investigate which antibiotics would successfully block AXL, and thus, hinder Zika from infecting fetal brain cells.

Now, researchers from the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, in conjunction with scientists from Novartis, have discovered another pathway for Zika to infect the brain. In their study, published in Cell Stem Cell, the researchers were able to validate that Zika successfully infected neural progenitor cells that did not contain AXL proteins.

In a press release on the study, Max Salick, PhD, co-first author of the study and postdoctoral researcher at Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research, stated, “We were thinking that the knocked-out NPCs devoid of AXL wouldn't get infected. But we saw these cells getting infected just as much as normal cells."

The research team is currently investigating the likelihood of other receptor proteins being vulnerable to Zika infection.

CDC Grant Millions to Texas to Help Fight Zika

Last month, both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Texas Department of State Health confirmed that one individual, with no recent travel history or other reported modes of transmission, tested positive for the Zika virus. In an official press release, the CDC noted that this “may be the first known occurrence of local mosquito-borne Zika virus transmission in the state.”

On Monday, December 12, Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced that the CDC granted the state a sum of $5 million to combat the spread of the Zika virus. According to a press release, this grant is part of an official Public Health Preparedness fund granted by Congress to fight Zika. In addition, the Texas Department of State Health is putting $18 million in state funds towards fighting the virus.

Governor Greg Abbott stated, “Texas has been at the forefront of developing and implementing the strongest possible Zika response plan and we will continue to work with our local and federal partners to ensure our communities have the tools they need to combat the Zika virus.”

Meanwhile, Florida Governor Rick Scott has cleared both Little River and the Miami Beach areas of active Zika transmission, since no locally-acquired Zika cases have been detected in these areas in 45 days.

Sand Dune Opposition Instills Fear of Zika in NJ Residents

Residents in Margate, New Jersey, have been fighting to keep sand dunes from being built around local beaches and now, locals are suing the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Environmental Protection to further this cause. The plaintiffs complain that the dunes would create areas of standing water, allowing for the breeding of Aedes mosquitoes, the same mosquitoes that are able to transmit the Zika virus.

Although some individuals believe that, since Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are not present in New Jersey, the local spread of Zika would not be a problem, there are other vectors present in New Jersey, such as Aedes albopictus, that are also able to transmit the virus. According to a recent article from the Rutgers University Center for Vector Biology, “New Jersey does not have established populations of Aedes aegypti, but the Asian tiger mosquito, Aedes albopictus is a resident. This mosquito has been shown to carry the Zika virus and is highly suspect as a vector in some locations.” The article also stated that Ae. albopictus prefers to breed in small, shallow water containers, and does, in fact, bite humans. However, the authors also noted that should New Jersey experience a Zika virus outbreak, it would be “limited.”

Read Part Two of this article.

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