A deadlier form of Zika
JUST as the rest of the Philippines are awaiting the arrival of the vaccine to be provided free to its citizens- infants and young children- for the much dreaded Japanese encephalitis, another disturbing and alarming news popped out. An intriguing study in mice suggests that a single genetic mutation in mice helped transform the Zika virus into a devastating force in Latin America particularly Brazil. This news penned by Pam Belluck and company was sourced from a report published by the prestigious journal Science.
The mutation called S139N first arose in an Asian strain of the Zika virus in 2013, just before a small outbreak in the French Polynesia- the first linked to an increase in babies born with microcephaly or small, pyramidal shaped heads-. The study by scientists in China found that strains of the S139N Zika virus caused substantially more deaths and microcephaly in mice tah other strains. In a laboratory setting, the S139N strain killed more human cells important to the arly brain development than an earlier strain without mutation. Understandably, the results of the study provoked worldwide reactions with many epidemiologists and microbiologists insisting that, the study as well as the result must be replicated in primates because laboratory experimments with mice and even human brain cells cannot fully capture how the virus functions in nature. Dr. David H.O'Connor, head of the global infectious diseases at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Primate center which has tested the Zika virus among monkeys say that, " the study is potentially impofrtant, but it requiresa lot of additional work to show the resukts can be reproduced in multiple settings, to show hat it is not merely, coincidence." Dr. Hongjun Song adds, " this mutation is both sufficient and necessary to make the virus worse ." The neurologist-scientist of the University of Pennsylvania who helped discover how the Zika virus attacks the brain cells of fetuses. And he continues, warning that, " this study os one of the smoking guns, the scary part and the take homemessage, is that it doesn't take much- just onemutation- to make something really really bad."
Next Week> Origin of Zika virus