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Proven Link Between Zika and Dengue Viruses

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(Vienna, 23/06/2016) A collaboration between scientists from the Department of Virology at the Medical University of Vienna, the Pasteur Institute in Paris and Imperial College London has led to the discovery of a previously unsuspected link between the Zika and Dengue viruses. This work has now been published in the leading journal Nature.

The Zika virus, which was largely unknown to the public until now, has caused an unexpected, explosive epidemic in the Pacific Islands and consequently in South America. Due to the link between contraction of the Zika virus and congenital abnormalities (primarily microcephaly) alongside other neurological complications, the World Health Organisation WHO has declared the rapid spread of the Zika Virus as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

“There is a strong similarity between the current geographic distribution of the Zika virus and that of the closely related Dengue virus, and in both cases, transmittance from person to person is carried by the aedes aegypti mosquito, although sexual transmittance of the Zika virus has also been noted” states Franz Xaver Heinz from the Department of Virology at MedUni Vienna.  “There have been indications that certain antibodies produced during contact with the Dengue virus not only fail to inhibit the Zika virus, they may even be able to strengthen it and therefore contribute to the more serious disorders in pregnancy after infection.“

In the present study, a previously unknown antigenic relationship between the Zika virus and the Dengue virus was discovered. After analysis of crystallographic structures, binding sites for antibodies could be identified, and both viruses were neutralised and separated effectively from the binding sites of the antibodies. Heinz said “this uncovers a novel prospect for the application of new technologies in the development of a universal Zika/Dengue vaccine“.

According to WHO, the Dengue virus currently threatens around 40 percent of the world’s population. Around 390 million infections occur every year, and some 96 million of these cases are severe enough to warrant medical treatment. The Zika virus has already spread to over 69 states and regions.

» Link to the Paper