Purdue researchers discover how Zika virus is structured

Knowing what the virus looks like is a key step to figuring out how to treat it.

Associated Press

By now, you've probably heard of the Zika fever. You know, the mosquito-carried malady that's been declared an international health emergency and can trigger miscarriage for pregnant women or microcephaly in fetuses. Well, researchers from Purdue University have determined how the virus is structured -- an important step to understanding it and how to guard against the disease. Purdue says that through its research, the team discovered that Zika is structured a lot like other flaviviruses (West Nile virus, tick-borne encephalitis, Dengue virus) which could help speed treatment along.

However, the devil is in the details here: Zika's unique qualities that separate it from other flaviviruses could be what makes it harder to treat. "Most viruses don't invade the nervous system or the developing fetus due to blood-brain and placental barriers, but the association with improper brain development in fetuses suggest Zika does," Purdue grad student Devika Sirohi says. "It is not clear how Zika gains access to these cells and infects them, but these areas of structural difference may be involved."

But, if anyone can figure out how to treat Zika patients, it's probably the Purdue team. After all, these are the scientists who've studied flaviviruses for over 14 years and discovered the structures of the West Nile and Dengue viruses. Still, we could be as far as 10 - 15 years away from developing a vaccine.