Zika: The New Global Health Threat

Burnet Institute

19 October, 2016

In Burnet’s latest edition of IMPACT magazine, Burnet researchers share their insights into Zika virus (ZIKV), which has been linked to an increased incidence of microcephaly and other central nervous system abnormalities in newborn infants.

Below is an extract of the article which can be downloaded. If you would like to subscribe to our free bi-annual magazine click here.

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared in February 2016 that ZIKV was a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, placing it on the same priority list as Ebola. Given the scale of the current pandemic and the serious and long-term consequences of infection during pregnancy, the impact of ZIKV on health services and affected communities could be enormous.

Transmitted by the Aedes species of mosquito, ZIKV attracted global attention when large outbreaks occurred in Brazil and across Central and South America, leading to the identification of pregnancy-associated features including microcephaly – smaller than expected head circumference.

Burnet Institute researcher, Dr Philippe Boeuf, the lead author in a review commissioned by BMC Medicine; The global threat of Zika virus to pregnancy: epidemiology, clinical perspectives, mechanisms, and impact, showed that the causal link between ZIKV infection during pregnancy and microcephaly is now strongly supported.

“Zika virus predominantly affects neural tissue,” Dr Boeuf explained. “This can result in microcephaly which is associated with severe developmental delay, intellectual impairment, and other serious complications.”

Women are at risk of ZIKV infection if they travel to areas with active ZIKV transmission, or have sex without a condom with a male partner with possible ZIKV exposure.

According to Deputy Head of Burnet’s Centre for Biomedical Research and a co-author of the review in BMC Medicine, Associate Professor Heidi Drummer, there is concern among the global health community that the full impact of ZIKV may not be known for decades.

“Because it is such a new epidemic, it is still not clear whether children who look normal when they are born will go on to have some sorts of abnormalities in their development,” Associate Professor Drummer said.

She believes Australian researchers have a responsibility to join the global research effort.

“I do not think just because it’s not here, we should be saying it’s not our problem,” she said.

“Burnet has a global focus and we have particular expertise in pregnancy, virology, cohort studies, and point-of-care diagnostics to make that impact. ZIKV is on our doorstep and we need to support our closest neighbours.”

View the entire article online.

Contact Details

For more information in relation to this news article, please contact:

Professor Heidi Drummer

Co-Program Director, Disease Elimination; Scientific Director, Burnet Diagnostics Initiative; Principal Investigator, Burnet Vaccine Initiative; Co-Head, Viral Entry and Vaccines Group




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