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What Are The Prospects Of A Zika Epidemic In The U.S.?

John Liebler /
An artist's representation of the Zika virus is seen in this undated image.

What Are The Prospects Of A Zika Epidemic In The U.S.?
What Are The Prospects Of A Zika Epidemic In The U.S.? GUEST: Deborah Spector, professor, UCSD School of Medicine and Skaggs School of Pharmacy

More than 102 travel related cases of Zika virus have been diagnosed in California this year. Now we learn that two babies have been born with Zika virus. The Zika virus cause the first travel advisory issued by the CBC within the United States. When mosquitoes were found in a neighborhood in Miami. The question is how far will the virus spread and how quickly can researchers come up with a vaccine? Joining me is Deborah Spector. Welcome to the program. Thank you. We know that several people in Florida have been affected by mosquitoes in Florida. Have there been any local transmissions by mosquitoes in California? No, there haven't. And talking about Zika virus. I just want to give a little bit of background to put in context what they got infection is. It is a member of we call the lady virus. Other viruses that may be familiar with our yellow fever, West Nile, and Sica is not a new virus. Zika virus was isolated from monkeys in 1947. Than there were not reports in humans until 1950 for. For many years Zika virus circulated among humans and at some point it appeared to have moved to Malaysia. There were sporadically reports up to 2000 statement of Sica -- 2007 of Zika virus been isolated. In 2007 there was an outbreak of Zika virus. That is a number of infections that were found. It wasn't until 2013 when Zika virus hit French Polynesia. There was evidence of neurological symptoms and a small percentage of individuals. Spent do we know why is this the normal sequence on how the virus evolves or mutates that would cause these neurological problems that did not cause before? It is. We know that if you look at the sequel of the virus in the virus that is the epidemic strain there are a number of mutations. It is the acquisition of these mutations particularly in the last few years. They have resulted in the virus now having probably a higher neural cubism. That is it has a higher probability of infecting neural cells. Zika virus circulates for many years with very mild disease. It is also important to note that only 20% of individuals who are infected have any symptoms. The symptoms are very mild mild fever, muscle late, rash. It is not a serious disease. Except if you happen to be pregnant? Exactly. Do we know if a woman without symptoms or which is mild symptoms that they may not even notice could give birth to a baby with it? We know there are at least for cases that have been identified of women that were systematic and who gave birth to its. It was a very small number. There are larger studies going on right now that I think will be very important to look at all women in academic areas and look at those who showed no symptoms, but clearly had been affected with Sega virus in the outcome in pregnancy. When it comes to the spread of mosquitoes carrying Zika virus, should we expect to see some local transmissions here in California? I think it is very unlikely. One can look at Dinky. It is a virus that is very very common in South America. And in Mexico and it is transmitted by the same mosquito that Zika virus is. They are the only cases that have been ever found in San Diego. From individuals came over the border. So I think is impossible? It is. I think it is highly unlikely if we just look at the history of dengue , which has been restricted along the south border with Mexico. What is the status of any vaccine? In I think it is looking very promising. There is one vaccine from NIH that has intercooled -- clinical trials and I think even more encouraging there are three additional vaccines all three of which have shown efficacy in the monkeys. I've been speaking with Deborah Spector. She will be speaking tonight about Zika virus@Turquoise Cellars as part of the science centers series. Thank you so much. Thank you.

Two California babies have been born with microcephaly to mothers who were infected with Zika, the California Department of Public Health said Thursday.


There is no evidence mosquitoes are transmitting Zika in the state. Health officials said the mothers were infected during their pregnancies after traveling to countries with Zika outbreaks. Florida remains the only state to have homegrown Zika infections.

“This is a sobering reminder for Californians that Zika can cause serious harm to a developing fetus,” California Department of Public Health Director Karen Smith said. “We join the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in urging pregnant women to avoid travel to areas with known Zika transmission. Pregnant women who must travel to one of these areas should strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites and speak with a health care provider upon return.”

But while Zika has become an issue of global concern, it was once a far more innocuous disease, said Deborah Spector, a professor of cellular and molecular medicine at the UC San Diego School of Medicine and the Skaggs School of Pharmacy. It was first documented in the late 1940s in Africa before it spread to Southeast Asia. At the time it was seen as a relatively mild disease in the same family as West Nile virus, dengue fever and yellow fever. Spector said the disease first attracted serious attention after a 2013 outbreak in French Polynesia showed evidence of neurological complications.

It's not unusual for diseases to mutate from something that causes merely uncomfortable symptoms to one that leads to severe birth defects.

"This is par for the course," Spector said. "Its change is not like the flu, where you see major changes in the circulation every year. This is actually quite a long period, 1947 to 2016."


Suds & Science — What are Flaviviruses?

Where: Turquoise Cellars, 5026 Cass St.

When: August 8, 6:30 p.m.

Cost: $5

Spector will be speaking Monday night at Turquoise Cellars as part of the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center's "Suds & Science" series. She joins KPBS Midday Edition on Monday with more on Zika's evolution and the prospects of a U.S. epidemic.