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The History Of Zika


Media accounts of  Zika, Ebola and SARS sometimes give the impression that they are new viruses, when in fact evidence suggests they’ve  been around for a long time in their natural hosts — animals. Today on Think, Krys Boyd spoke to Jonna Mazet, a University of California - Davis epidemiology professor, about the spread of Zika and other infectious diseases. Mazet is featured in the PBS documentary “Spillover: Zika, Ebola and Beyond,” which airs tonight at 9 on KERA TV.

The KERA Interview

Jonna Mazet on

… why scientists didn’t act on Zika sooner:  

“There are a lot of viruses out there. Most of them are yet to be discovered, but Zika is one that we did know about for decades and we didn’t do a lot about it. There are probably multiple reasons for that. One is that it was causing what we believed to be usually really minor or no symptoms. It wasn’t until it was starting to move around the Earth that we started to experience some worse and now devastating circumstances with microcephaly and birth defects.”  

 … how the Zika virus evolved:

“Zika wasn’t really causing a lot of problems, we don’t think, when it was in its maybe ancestral home in Africa. When it moved into French Polynesia and then later now as we’re seeing in Latin America, it did pick up some different characteristics that caused it to have more serious symptoms.”  

… why Zika had the potential to spread:    

“The group of folks that are thinking about this and trying to get ahead of this curve and know about the viruses out there would have listed Zika high on the list of ones we  should be watching, because we knew it was an animal virus that could jump into people, so that’s the first sort of important factor. If it can jump, even if it’s not causing symptoms yet, what might it do as it evolves or how might it remix with other viruses?” 

… ways to prevent the spread of Zika and other infectious diseases:   

“What we’re advocating for is a list of viruses that gets better and better, more comprehensive and then that we start to understand behaviors of both the virus and then people, so that we can watch for these changes and pick it up very quickly. Not waiting for it to become a huge catastrophic event.”