In February, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the outbreak of Zika virus infections in Brazil and other South and Central American countries to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. That was because of fears, confirmed just this week, that the virus causes microcephaly – the incomplete development of the head and brain – in babies born to mothers who suffered Zika infections during pregnancy. Strong evidence also exists that the virus, which spreads via mosquito bites, can cause Guillain-Barré syndrome – an autoimmune disorder that can lead to paralysis. Scientists are now hunting for ways to combat this dangerous pathogen, and recently they made an important initial step toward that goal: they determined its structure (pictured). Armed with this knowledge, researchers have a much better chance of designing effective antibodies or small molecules that could inhibit the virus, as well as developing an effective vaccine.
Written by Ruth Williams
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