Zika is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These mosquitoes bite during the day and night. Zika can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus. Infection during pregnancy can cause certain birth defects. There is no vaccine or medicine for Zika.
The immune system's response to the Zika virus, rather than the virus itself, may be responsible for nerve-related complications of infection, according to a Yale study.
This insight could lead to new ways of treating patients with Zika-related complications, such as Guillain-Barré syndrome, the researchers said.
The research team found that when the Zika infection spreads from the circulating blood into the brain, immune cells known as CD8 T cells flood the brain. While these T cells sharply limit the infection of nerve cells, they also trigger Zika-related paralysis, the researchers said.
"The immune cells that are generated by infection start attacking our own neurons," Iwasaki said. "The damage is not occurring through the virus infection, but rather the immune response to the virus."
Immune-mediated nerve damage underlies Guillen-Barré syndrome, which affects some people infected with the Zika virus. The study findings suggest that suppressing the immune response might be an approach to treating the syndrome, which causes weakness, tingling, and, in rare cases, paralysis.