A virus related to Zika can hibernate in pigs

A virus related to Zika can hibernate in pigs

Research: Virus related to Zika hibernates in pigs
The reports of the Zika virus, which is responsible for skull malformations in newborns, frighten people worldwide. Swiss researchers have now found that a virus related to Zika can apparently overwinter in herds of pigs.

Virus related to Zika hibernates in pigs
The Zika virus, which has been spreading in Latin America for months, has been causing great fear among the population for months. The pathogen is suspected of causing malformations in the unborn child if pregnant women are infected. In this so-called “microcephaly”, the children are born with a skull that is too small. Scientists from Switzerland have now found that a virus related to Zika apparently circulates in pig herds during the mosquito-free winter period and can thus survive.

Severe brain inflammation in humans
The Japanese Encephalitis (JE) virus is the main cause of severe brain inflammation in people in Asia. Infection, especially in children, can lead to severe brain inflammation with lifelong damage or even death. The virus is found in large parts of Southeast Asia and has now spread to India. The pathogen circulates on the one hand between birds and mosquitoes, and on the other hand between pigs and mosquitoes. So far, only one infection with mosquitoes was known. Researchers at the University of Bern have now found that it is also transmitted in direct contact between pigs, which means that it could also circulate in pig populations during the mosquito-free winter period.

So far only known transmission path through mosquitoes
As the University of Bern said in a press release, the JE virus is closely related to the West Nile, Zika and Dengue viruses. They are all transmitted by mosquitoes and belong to the so-called flaviviruses, which can cause serious illnesses in humans and animals. So far, only the transmission path through mosquitoes was known for JE viruses. The research group headed by Dr. However, Meret Ricklin and Prof. Artur Summerfield found that they can also be transmitted between pigs. The scientists published their results in the journal "Nature Communications".

Pathogens can persist in colder regions
It was previously unknown how the JE virus hibernated in colder regions such as northern Japan and how it could lead to new outbreaks next year. Some of these outbreaks occurred in the same farm as in the previous year, although there were no infected mosquitoes in the environment. The scientists have now found that the animals secrete the pathogen through saliva for several days and are susceptible to infections of the mouth and nose even at low virus doses.

Virus multiplies in the brain
As with humans, the virus multiplied in pigs in the brain, causing inflammation there. However, it increased the most in the pigs' almonds, where it remains detectable for weeks to months. The study authors believe that JE viruses may circulate in pigs and may even survive for months. If the animal secretes the virus again, a new infection cycle could begin. However, further studies are needed to prove these relationships.

May spread in a temperate climate
The results showed that even with viruses that are transmitted by insect bites, direct transmission by contact cannot be excluded. "It means that the JE virus could also circulate in the pig population without mosquitoes and thus spread to regions with a temperate climate," said Artur Summerfield. In theory, it could also threaten people more. Vaccination does exist for humans and animals. In Europe, the virus has so far only occurred among returnees from Asia, with no further infections. However, there have been increasing warnings in recent years about the spread of the Asian bush mosquito in Europe. This is considered a vector of Japanese encephalitis. (ad)

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