Uganda has received an award from the MRC Zika Response Initiative to determine if the country is vulnerable to a Zika virus epidemic.
The Zika virus was discovered in Uganda in 1947 in an experimental Rhesus monkey caged in the Zika forest. Since then, there has been no evidence of endemic or epidemic outbreaks of Zika infections in Uganda. The emergence of a Zika virus strain in the Americas in 2015, different from the strain found in Africa, its association with babies born with small heads (microcephaly) and its spread to other countries prompted the World Health Organization to recognize Zika virus as a global health threat.
Investigators at the MRC/UVRI working with colleagues at the Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI) will screen for Zika virus in a large collection of mosquitoes known to transmit this virus to man using highly specific and sensitive molecular tests to assess the risk of an epidemic in Uganda.
Because Zika infection in humans is mostly asymptomatic and only a few individuals develop mild symptoms that are unspecific, it is easy for the virus to go unnoticed by the health system. The scientists will therefore, search for the virus or molecules (called antibodies) that indicate previous viral exposure in stored plasma samples collected from individuals with fever and rash of unknown causes.
Molecular analysis of the virus (if present) will allow scientists to determine how diverse and how long the virus has been circulating in Uganda. Nevertheless, if no evidence of Zika virus is found, measures need to be taken to protect the human population in Uganda from infection from the more pathogenic strain found in other parts of the world.
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