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An international research collaboration studying the genetics of Zika virus in Brazil and beyond has provided a new understanding of the disease and its rapid spread through space and time.

Left: Zibra Natal-Ingra Morales (University of Sao Paulo) and Josh Quick (University of Birmingham) use Oxford Nanopore MinION device. Right: Jaqueline Goes de Jesus (Fundacao Oswaldo Cruz – Salvador) and Nuno Faria (University of Oxford) use the Oxford Nanopore MinION device in Joao Pessoa, Brazil. Image credit: Ricardo Funari

Newly published in Nature, the research was led by the Universities of Birmingham and Oxford in partnership with FioCruz Bahia, the University of São Paulo, and supported by the Brazilian Ministry of Health. The findings have  significant public health implications and the potential to improve responses to future outbreaks.

By carrying out genome sequencing to understand the virus’ genetic make-up, the team was able to track the spread of the virus across Brazil. The study showed that Zika’s establishment within Brazil - and its spread from there to other regions - occurred before Zika transmission in the Americas was first discovered. By revealing this ‘hidden’ epidemic, the results will help scientists to better understand the link between the Zika epidemic and reports of birth defects and other diseases.

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