Scientists have mapped out the protein structure of the dreaded Zika virus as part of an effort to stop it from spreading, according to an Indiana University study.
The study mapped proteins in the Zika virus and found them to be very similar in structure to other viruses that cause dengue fever, West Nile, encephalitis and hepatitis C. Researchers then successfully tested several compounds that can combat these diseases and succeed in disrupting the Zika virus’ replication.
“Mapping this protein provides us the ability to reproduce a key part of the Zika virus in a lab,” Dr. Cheng Kao, a biochemistry professor at Indiana University, said in a press statement. “This means we can quickly analyze existing drugs and other compounds that can disrupt the spread of the virus. Drugs to target the Zika virus will almost certainly involve this protein.”
The research means that drugs approved to treat hepatitis C and other viral diseases can probably also be used to combat the Zika virus.
The World Health Organization estimates more than 1 million people in 52 countries and territories in North and South America have been infected with the Zika virus since 2015.
There are currently 5,158 cases of Zika virus confirmed in the continental U.S., as well as another 38,212 in American territories, according to the Centers for Disease Prevention And Control’s (CDC) most recent update.
Domestic Zika cases include 222 locally acquired cases, 45 believed to be the result of sexual transmission, and one that was the result of laboratory exposure. The vast majority of the cases were from people who traveled to a Zika-prone country, such as Brazil.
Zika virus infections in pregnant women are directly linked to fetal deaths and microcephaly, a birth defect that causes babies to have abnormally small heads, according to the CDC. Some children born with microcephaly can live productive lives, but the infants most affected tend not to survive long. Laboratory studies confirmed the presence of Zika virus in the blood, tissue, brains and amniotic fluid of fetuses and babies diagnosed with microcephaly.
New research published last August scanned babies’ brains to determine how the virus affected them. Researchers found that Zika does far more damage to an infant’s brain than previously believed, targeting the parts of the brain that facilitate communication between the two hemispheres.
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