What are Zika and flaviviruses?
Zika virus is a member of the flavivirus genus in the family Flaviviridae. It recently came to public attention as a result of the devastating epidemic which swept through Brazil and other South American countries in 2015 and 2016.
The flavivirus genus includes several mosquito-transmitted viruses, such as dengue, Japanese encephalitis (JEV) and West Nile virus (WNV). They can all cause encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) in people and, in the case of JEV and WNV, in horses.
Although most of the flaviviruses are exotic to the UK, louping ill virus is a tick-transmitted flavivirus found in the UK.
Our research and its impact
It’s incredibly challenging to accurately diagnose flaviviruses by detecting antibodies against them because there’s such a high degree of cross-reactivity between them that it’s difficult to distinguish between them.
Here in the One Virology team, we’re exploring several different strategies for improving specificity of serological assays to flaviviruses like WNV and Zika. This includes developing pseudotyped viruses and identifying signature sequences using next-generation phage display technology.
Although in most cases, Zika and its relatives only cause mild disease, in a proportion of individuals, infection results in more severe disease, such as encephalitis. Understanding how Zika gains entry into cells and how dengue and Zika result in enhanced disease is another aspect of our current research.