Genome research provides insight into Zika outbreak in South Florida

March 21, 2017

Genomic research has shown the Zika virus outbreak in Florida last year came not from a single “patient zero,” but from multiple infected travelers.

A team from the Scripps Transnational Science Institute identified four different introductions of the virus in South Florida, testing samples from 17 people. Looking at the total number of infected people in the region, the researchers calculated that there may have been as many as 30 introductions of the virus.

Kristian Andersen from the institute, reporting at the 10th Future of Genomic Medicine Conference in La Jolla, California, noted that sequencing the genome of the virus from mosquitoes and patients also showed that travelers to the Caribbean were the primary means of introduction. The study was summarized at Medscape News.

“The vast majority (of infected travelers) came by cruise ship,” Andersen told the conference. “That is not something I would have expected.”

Among other findings reported:

  • Most of the cases of Zika infection occurred in three areas of Miami-Dade County, but the viruses in those areas were not different from each other
  • Decreasing the mosquito population by spraying corresponded with a drop in infections, meaning the virus in South Florida was mosquito-borne.
  • The Zika virus likely arrived in Florida in the spring.
  • South Florida’s year-round warm weather and large visitor traffic makes it the largest at-risk area in the country.

“The take-home message is that we need to diagnose or detect much earlier,” said George Mias of Michigan State University. Genomic testing would improve that early detection, he added.

QualTex Laboratories, a subsidiary of San Antonio-based nonprofit BioBridge Global, tests donations from the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center and other organizations for the Zika virus. For the latest Zika news, click here.