March 9, 2017

The rapid spread of the Zika virus has led to widespread media and government attention; however, little is known about the disease itself. How long does the disease stay in the system? Where does the Zika virus attack? And how does it spread to offspring?

A team of interdisciplinary researchers from OHSU in Portland, Oregon, is attempting to find these answers. Collaborating with the Oregon National Primate Center (ONPRC), the team is beginning to unlock the mysteries of the virus – and ultimately pave the way for future therapies and vaccines.

“This study helps us better understand how the virus manifests itself so that scientists can develop therapies and vaccines that would work in humans,” says Dr. Daniel Streblow, Associate Professor of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology in the OHSU Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute, OHSU School of Medicine. “Our study significantly advances what is known about the growth of the virus in the host.”

The research team, a 20-person cross-section of faculty across the university, examined the Zika virus infection in seven rhesus macaques from March 2016 to August 2016. The study observed the Zika virus at seven, 28 and 35 days post-infection.

Ultimately, it was found that the Zika virus attacks tissues in the nervous system, male and female reproductive and urinary tracts, muscles, joints and lymph nodes. The virus first presents itself as a rash, fever or pink eye, and then persists in the body for at least 35 days.

“What is different about this research is that we also were able to look at specific points in time to see where the virus grew in the tissues so we can identify and target the reservoirs where the virus hides,” says Dr. Streblow.

This medical study was conducted in response to the Zika virus outbreak across the Western hemisphere. In 2016, there were 5,102 reported cases of the Zika virus in the United States, and an additional 36,079 cases reported in US territories.

Photo credit: Kathy West for the California National Primate Research Center

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