How worried should you be about Zika virus?

U-M virologist offers perspective on brain-affecting infection

Zika virus

Seen through a microscope, Zika virus particles (like the one at the tip of the arrow) don’t look too dangerous. But they’re suspected of causing lasting harm in a growing number of infants and others. Image courtesy of CDC

It seemed to burst onto the scene overnight, with tragic pictures of babies born with small heads and damaged brains. Now, the world’s health authorities have shifted into high gear to deal with Zika virus.

How does this virus compare to others, and what will it take to detect or defeat it? U-M virologist Katherine Spindler, Ph.D., offers some key information and a dose of perspective. She’s a member of a national team that hosts a weekly podcast on viruses, aimed at the general public, called This Week in Virology.

Dr. Spindler and her laboratory team in the U-M Medical School study how viruses cross a protective barrier to the brain and what viruses do once they’re there. They also look at how some viruses can cause mild illness in most people – but in immunocompromised individuals, cause serious damage. Working with scientists in Brazil, Spindler’s lab team studies other viruses that can cause brain problems.

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What is the Zika virus?

What pregnant women need to know

mosquito

News about a mysterious, tropical virus called Zika and its link to severe birth defects and newborn deaths abroad may be worrisome for many – especially pregnant women or those who are thinking about getting pregnant. The U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a first-of-its-kind travel alert recommending that pregnant women avoid countries where Zika has spread, and world health officials have declared a global emergency to control the Zika virus.

A small number of cases have recently been reported in the U.S.  If you’re pregnant or have a loved one who is, you may understandably be concerned.
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