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Triangle Researchers Mobilize Against Threat Of Zika Virus

Aedes aegypti mosquito
James Gathany
Aedes aegypti is one species of mosquito carrying the Zika virus.

Health care professionals and researchers across the state are ramping up to assist in the fight against the mosquito-borne Zika virus. 

Infections in pregnant women in Brazil are thought to be behind a steep increase in cases of microcephaly  in that country.  The condition results in babies having abnormally small brains and heads.

Dr. Myron Cohen is a professor of medicine, microbiology and epidemiology at UNC-Chapel Hill.

"We don't understand the probability of transmission from a mosquito, we don't understand among those women who acquire the infection, the probability of a child with any problems, so, you know, it's very early so it would be really wrong to be hyperbolic," says Cohen.  "It's really important to learn everything we can learn as quickly as possible and then apply that information to the best possible strategies."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is advising pregnant women and women who are considering becoming pregnant to avoid travel to Brazil and other areas where the mosquitoes are prevalent.   

Dr. Sallie Permar is an associate professor of pediatrics at Duke.  She says there's a lot of work to be done to confirm the link between infection in pregnant women and birth defects in their children.  

"Understanding the disease and understanding the fetal effects of this virus and rapidly mobilizing to develop a vaccine that can be effective at both preventing infection and preventing the fetal disease," Permar says.

Permar says the mosquitoes that carry the virus are not active throughout the year in North Carolina, and that may reduce the likelihood of transmission in this state.

Eric Hodge hosts WUNC’s broadcast of Morning Edition, and files reports for the North Carolina news segments of the broadcast. He started at the station in 2004 doing fill-in work on weekends and All Things Considered.
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