A Scottish archivist recently unearthed a trove of documents suggesting scientists may have witnessed the Zika virus decades before its official discovery.
“This is one of the most exciting discoveries we have made in the archive,” Moira Rankin, a senior archivist at the University of Glasgow, said in a press release.”We didn’t realize the amount of Zika related content that was in there.”
The documents trace the discovery of Zika to the mid 1940s, far before the official identification of the virus in the 1960s. They include hand-drawn graphs, annotated mosquito catch tables and slides from a research team which identified the Zika virus. The findings extend the research timeline of the virus, which could be critical to scientists investigating this year’s Zika pandemic in South America.
The university research team which found Zika was originally dispatched to study other mosquito borne illnesses, such as yellow fever.
Today, the University of Glasgow is involved in research on the Zika outbreak, including studying the virus, working on vaccines and examining the links between Zika and birth defects.
There are currently 591 cases of the Zika virus confirmed in the continental U.S. as well as another 939 in American territories, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The vast majority of the cases were from people who traveled to a Zika-prone country, such as Brazil.
The officials linked Zika virus infections in pregnant women to fetal deaths and devastating birth defects such as microcephaly, when a baby is born with an abnormally small head. Laboratory studies, however, have confirmed the presence of Zika virus in the blood, tissue, brains and amniotic fluid of fetuses and babies diagnosed with microcephaly. The CDC estimates that there are 168 pregnant women with any laboratory evidence of possible Zika virus infection in America.
A study published in March by the National Center for Atmospheric Research found that the Zika-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquito could spread as far north as New York City this summer if the weather is warmer than average.
The Zika virus likely won’t spread as prolifically in the U.S. as it has in Latin America and the Caribbean, due to the high amount of Americans living and working behind air-conditioned doors. The study also found that small numbers of the mosquitoes can survive in much of North America during spring and fall when temperatures cool.
The virus is spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which lives in tropical climates. Outbreaks have a history of occurring in Southeast Asia, according to the CDC, but not in Vietnam. The World Health Organization has said the virus has been reported in 61 countries, mostly in Latin America and Western Pacific region.
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