Playing Hide and Go Seek With the Zika Virus
Scientists have recently discovered that the Zika virus is able to hide in areas of the body that are shielded from the immune system. This makes it harder to fight off and means that it can stay camped out in your body for longer in the hopes that you eventually pass it on to another mosquito or to someone you have sex with. This explains why scientists found that they could detect the Zika virus in semen for up to 62 days after a person is infected. It has also been detected in fetal brain tissue, placenta, and amniotic fluid.
Areas such as the eyes, brain, placenta, and testes are protected from attacks the immune system launches on the body to fight off foreign invaders, known as “immune privileged”. These areas are protected so that your immune system’s antibodies don’t accidentally attack and damage vital tissue. But if a virus happens to enter this protective bubble, it’s much harder to fight off, giving the virus more time to persist and, ideally for the virus, multiply. This is why Zika seems to disappear from the blood within about ten days, but now scientists are finding it still lingering in places like the testes.
Basically, this means that this virus is like a super spy who silently slips in through a crack in the wall and then hides where your body won’t go look for it, so it can launch a sneak attack to infect more people while you’re not looking. As of yet, scientists aren’t sure that the virus can still be passed on this long after someone is initially infected even though it’s still in the body. But, this has influenced officials to urge men who have traveled to Zika infected areas to practice safe sex even with non-pregnant women. The virus may be able to wait to attack until she is.
What do you think of these sneaky tactics? What do you think this means for our chances of beating this enemy?