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Zika Virus in China; Fetal Cortical Cell Death due to Zika

2016-03-09

A dozen cases of Zika virus in China have been reported in the last month, all imported, according to the National Health and Family Planning Commission in Beijing.  An article in the New York Times (NYT) indicates that the islands of Taiwan and Hainan are at risk for locally transmitted Zika because the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which carries the virus, is resident in those areas.  Zika virus has not yet been reported north of Thailand and Polynesia, but it has been spreading rapidly in South America.

Taiwan had a severe outbreak of dengue fever last year, which is caused by a similar virus that is carried by the same mosquito.  Because of the dengue outbreak, Taiwanese authorities are taking special precautions to prevent entry of Zika, dengue, and chikungunya, all of which are carried by the same mosquito.

A laboratory study also reported in the NYT showed that fetal cells which form the precursors to the cortex in the brain are especially susceptible to infection and death from the Zika virus.  This study forms a basis for the finding of microcephaly that has so alarmed scientists in Brazil recently.  Babies born with microcephaly are missing a large part of the cortex of their brains, dooming them to mental retardation.  This study doesn’t prove that Zika is the cause of microcephaly, but it makes scientists very suspicious.

 

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