With every passing week, Zika becomes more dangerous and is spreading to new areas. Until now, Zika has been a threat mostly to pregnant women, their partners, or couples that are trying or planning to conceive due to the birth defect Microcephaly that Zika can cause. And while the virus does pose health risks much like other viruses – fever, rash, joint pain, headache – it appeared somewhat asymptomatic, other than recent reports that links Zika to the eye infection uveitis.
Now researchers are conducting experiments with findings that show an alarming relationship between Zika and serious long-term effects on the central nervous system of adults. The study, published Thursday in Cell Stem Cell, was performed on mice and found that Zika virus appears to cause cell death in neural stem cells and also hinders their ability to regenerate. The infected mice experienced a decrease in cell population in 2 areas of the brain that was twenty times more pronounced compared to other brain regions.
“Ours is the first study to look at Zika infection in the adult brain in an animal model. What we found was quite striking and dramatic. The stem cell population are highly vulnerable to Zika,” says Dr. Joseph Gleeson, lead author of the study. “In a sense, it’s the exception that proves the rule. It’s not so much the age of the person but the type of cells themselves that are vulnerable and not vulnerable.”
According to Gleeson, the study does come with limitations but clearly suggests that more research is needed and there are more questions to be answered.
For now, the best way to protect yourself and your family from Zika is with mosquito bite prevention. Use insect repellent with DEET when outdoors, keep your arms and legs covered in light-colored, loose clothing, keep doors and windows closed, and contact your local exterminator for mosquito control treatments around your home.