Zika | St. Louis Public Radio

Zika

A Washington University researcher holds a piece of paper coated with tiny gold particles that can be used to test blood for Zika virus.
Provided | Washington University School of Medicine

St. Louis researchers have used a strain of the Zika virus to shrink highly lethal brain tumors in mice. 

The study, run by Washington University and the University of California San Diego, used 33 lab mice with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer. Mice injected with a strain of the Zika virus lived longer and were measured to have smaller tumors than the control group, which was injected with saltwater.

(via Flickr/wild_turkey5300)

Facts and fiction continue to swirl about mosquito-borne illnesses like the Zika and West Nile viruses. On Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, we discussed what you need to know about such illnesses and how to prevent them.

Saint Louis University is currently at the forefront of trying to develop a Zika vaccine. Sarah George, a researcher with the Saint Louis University Center for Vaccine Development, joined the program on Tuesday to discuss her research and prevention tips.

Zika virus, here shown as a digitally-colorized transmission electron micrograph, can be transmitted by mosquitoes or sexually.
Cynthia Goldsmith | Centers for Disease Control

A Saint Louis University analysis of mosquito migration patterns and sexually transmitted diseases places the St. Louis region on a map of counties that could see an elevated risk for Zika infections this summer. The virus is spread by mosquitoes but can also be transmitted sexually for several months after symptoms occur.

However, the overall risk in the continental United States is still very low, study author Enbal Shacham said.

A researcher holds a tray of Zika virus growing in cells at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
Huy Mach | Washington University School of Medicine

New research from Washington University provides the first evidence of a human antibody capable of protecting fetuses from the Zika virus. 

In pregnant women, the virus can cause severe birth defects, most notably microcephaly, in which infants are born with abnormally small heads. 

According to a paper published this week in the journal Nature, scientists tested multiple human antibodies on infected pregnant mice. One antibody, ZIKV-117, was able to defend the mice fetuses from all existing strains of the Zika virus. 

Wash U virologist Michael Diamond, a co-author of the study, said the finding makes significant progress in combating the virus.

Tom, via Flickr

Missouri’s U.S. senators, who are at odds on some issues, do seem to share the same prediction when it comes to Zika, the dangerous virus spread by mosquitoes.

Republican Roy Blunt and Democrat Claire McCaskill both say Congress will finally take action within weeks to approve funding to fight the virus, which has gained a foothold in Florida.

Zika virus, here shown as a digitally-colorized transmission electron micrograph, can be transmitted by mosquitoes or sexually.
Cynthia Goldsmith | Centers for Disease Control

From bioengineered mosquitoes to a $5,000 seed grant, researchers in Missouri and southern Illinois are joining an international effort to stop the Zika virus. 

Scientists say Zika research has been hampered by a lack of funding. Efforts were further stalled last week when the U.S. Senate split along party lines and failed to pass a $1.1 billion spending bill that included a significant boost in money for researchers around the country — many of whom have dropped other work to focus on Zika.

Tom, via Flickr

Local health departments are using their own resources to boost mosquito prevention efforts, as Congress remains split over a funding bill to boost preparation and research for the Zika virus.

Most preparations are well practiced after years of dealing with West Nile: health departments set traps, spray for mosquitoes, and encourage residents to wear long-sleeves and insect repellent.

There have been no cases of Zika transmitted by local mosquitoes so far in the continental United States, but the northernmost ranges of the two mosquito species that carry Zika do cross through Missouri. Seven Missourians have been diagnosed with the virus after traveling to affected areas, including two pregnant women.

Zika virus, here shown as a digitally-colorized transmission electron micrograph, can be transmitted by mosquitoes or sexually.
Cynthia Goldsmith | Centers for Disease Control

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., says the Senate is likely to vote by next week on money to be used to fight the Zika virus, the disease spread by mosquitoes and blamed for thousands of debilitating birth defects in South and Central America.

In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Blunt denied assertions by some Senate Democrats, and the White House, that he and other Senate Republicans have been dragging their feet when it comes to allocating money to battle the insects and the virus.

Blunt acknowledged that Zika, and the mosquitoes that carry it, are likely to arrive in Missouri this summer.

Zika virus, here shown as a digitally-colorized transmission electron micrograph, can be transmitted by mosquitoes or sexually.
Cynthia Goldsmith | Centers for Disease Control

A research team at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis is using genetically modified mice to be able to test possible vaccines and treatments against the Zika virus.

A female Aedes aegypti mosquito feasts on the blood of CDC photographer James Gathany. Aedes aegypti is the type of mosquito most likely to carry Zika and other tropical diseases.
James Gathany | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The breed of mosquito most likely to carry the Zika virus probably won’t make its way to St. Louis this summer, but local public health agencies are still taking precautions.