Concerns over the Zika virus have focused on pregnant women due to mounting evidence that it causes brain abnormalities in developing fetuses. However, new research in mice from scientists at The Rockefeller University and La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology suggests that certain adult brain cells may be vulnerable to infection as well. Among these are populations of cells that serve to replace lost or damaged neurons throughout adulthood, and are also thought to be critical to learning and memory.
“This is the first study looking at the effect of Zika infection on the adult brain,” says Joseph Gleeson, adjunct professor at Rockefeller and head of the Laboratory of Pediatric Brain Disease and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. “Based on our findings, getting infected with Zika as an adult may not be as innocuous as people think.”The research is based on studies of mice, so the usual caveats apply about applicability to humans, but it is still a worrisome thought.
The research also calls into question the hypothesis that brain damage in infants is due not just to the Zika virus, but to related factors that are geographically co-located with the virus, as I mentioned a few weeks ago.
And these findings lend support to the idea that spraying for mosquitos is a necessary evil. A report just out in Nature shows that Cuba has limited the number of Zika cases there by means of a rapid response spraying policy.