COULD EAST AFRICANS BE IMMUNE TO ZIKA?

The Zika Virus which is responsible for massive outbreak of microcephaly in Brazil, was first discovered in rhesus monkeys in Uganda’s Zika forest in 1947, before being found in humans in Uganda and Tanzania in 1952. While there is a dearth of research on Zika in Africa, outbreaks of the virus on the continent have previously been recorded, according to the WHO.

While the virus is wreaking havoc in Brazil, parts of the population in East Africa, including Uganda and Kenya, could already be immune to the virus, according to a medical expert and WHO official.

Zika is transmitted by the aedes aegypti mosquito, which is widely distributed in Africa. The mosquito is also a primary vector for several other viral diseases—including dengue fever, yellow fever and chikungunya—that are common across the continent. Despite the presence of the mosquito vector in countries like Kenya and Uganda, only a handful of cases of Zika have been confirmed in recent years. Just two cases have been confirmed in Uganda in the past seven decades, the BBC reported. Researchers at the Uganda Virus Research Institute—that lies just a few kilometers away from the Zika forest—and the Kenya Medical Research Institute in Nairobi have recently announced separate studies to collect more data on Zika prevalence in the region.

Yet the presence of Zika antibodies—proteins in the blood that target and neutralize specific bacteria or viruses—have been recorded in people in Kenya, indicating immunity to the virus, according to Dr Ahmed Kalebi, chief executive of East Africa’s branch of the Lancet Group, a pathology research organization. “If people haven’t been immunized or vaccinated against Zika but they have antibodies to Zika, it means that the virus must have gotten into them at one time or another in their lives,” says Kalebi.

-More at NewsWeek

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