The ZIKAction Consortium Meeting, funded by the European Commission, was held at the Emerging Pathogens Institute on Thursday and Friday. Researchers discussed their progress in learning more about the virus, which had an outbreak in 2015 and 2016 in South and North America.
From across the world, leaders in Zika research came to the University of Florida for a two-day meeting about the virus.
The ZIKAction Consortium Meeting, funded by the European Commission, was held at the Emerging Pathogens Institute on Thursday and Friday. There, researchers discussed their progress in learning more about the virus, which had an outbreak in 2015 and 2016 in South and North America.
“It’s an opportunity to come together and talk about where the science is and chart a course to move forward,” said Glenn Morris, EPI director and a professor of medicine.
About 70 scientists from 18 countries came to the meeting, which was held at UF because of the university’s leading Zika research, Morris said.
The meeting included sessions about clinical cases, project funding, virus mapping and communication strategies.
“This is the big science approach,” Morris said. “I think it’s great, this collaboration.”
Morris said 2017 has seen a decrease of Zika instances but an increase in other arboviruses, viruses that are transmitted by arthropods. Scientists are researching why the Zika decrease is occurring and whether it means another outbreak could be in the future.
Maureen Long, an associate professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine, is researching whether animals can be hosts of the virus.
“We already know it’s not a simple human disease,” she said.
In humans, a fetus can develop microcephaly if its mother is infected with the Zika virus. Long wants to know if other species develop congenital diseases.
“We still don’t know why things occur,” Long said.
If researchers can identify which genes the virus is disrupting, they can try to determine how to unlock that gene from the virus, she said.
Long hopes researchers will know by next summer if other species are susceptible to the Zika virus and related congenital disease.
At the meeting, scientists also discussed other arboviruses and challenges in diagnosing them. Morris said having so many perspectives from so many scientists allowed the group to look at data to create a more comprehensive understanding of Zika.
“There’s a lot we need to learn about Zika to learn how to prevent it,” Morris said.