Back before the Zika virus had taken root well before it became prominent. According to researchers, it launched its epidemic for possibly a year or more before it was confirmed. With this new data in mind, not one, but two different groups are focusing on locating the exact origin source of the Zika virus in its origin country of Brazil.
ON THE MOVE
The Zika virus probably arrived in the Western Hemisphere from somewhere in the Pacific more than a year before it was detected, a new genetic analysis of the epidemic shows. Researchers also found that as Zika fanned outward from Brazil, it entered neighboring countries and South Florida multiple times without being noticed.
Although Zika quietly took root in northeastern Brazil in late 2013 or early 2014, many months passed before Brazilian health authorities received reports of unexplained fever and skin rashes. Zika was finally confirmed as the culprit in April 2015.
The World Health Organization did not declare the epidemic a public health emergency until February 2016, after babies of Zika-infected mothers began to be born with severe neurological problems. Zika, which is carried by mosquitoes, infected an estimated 1 million people in Brazil alone in 2015, and is now thought to be transmitted in 84 countries worldwide.
Although Zika’s path was documented starting in 2015 through records of human cases, less was known about how the virus spread so silently before detection, or how outbreaks in different parts of Central and South America were connected. Now two groups working independently, reporting online May 24 in Nature, have compared samples from different times and locations to read the history recorded in random mutations of the virus’s 10 genes.
One team, led by scientists in the United Kingdom and Brazil, drove more than 1,200 miles across Brazil — “a Top Gear–style road trip,” one scientist quipped — with a portable device that could produce a complete catalog of the virus’s genes in less than a day. A second team, led by researchers at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, analyzed more than 100 Zika genomes from infected patients and mosquitoes in nine countries and Puerto Rico. Based on where the cases originated, and the…