Dengue Virus Is Zika's Most Powerful Weapon – And Sometimes Its Greatest Weakness

Fumigation of a mosquito infested building in Lima, Peru. MINSA/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Robin Andrews 23 Jun 2016, 16:17

Just this week, it was announced that a new experimental vaccine for the Zika virus is set to go to human trials, suggesting our fight against the dangerous pathogen is turning a corner. However, as two new studies reveal, there is a lot about the Zika virus we are yet to fully understand, and its ability to replicate is more fearsome than we previously thought.

The first study, published in the journal Nature Immunology, highlights the fact that Zika seems to have a co-conspirator when it comes to infecting humans: dengue.

Both viruses are spread by the same mosquito, the Aedes genus – primarily the Aedes aegypti species. As Professor Gavin Screaton, the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Imperial College London, and the coordinating researcher of the study, told IFLScience: “It is possible that Zika will spread to the regions where the vector is commonly found,” as confirmed by many pre-existing studies.

In fact, the prevalence of dengue already exceeds 90 percent in some regions affected by Zika. This means that the likelihood of a dengue infection, followed by a Zika virus infection, can be fairly high in certain regions.

The same mosquito spreads both dengue and Zika. Tacio Philip Sansonovski/Shutterstock

As this new study reveals, this is really bad news. By taking antibodies from people previously infected with dengue, and letting them interact with samples of the Zika virus, the team of researchers were able to see in real-time how the virus reacts to their presence, just as they would do in the bloodstreams of dengue-immune patients.

As it turns out, the majority of dengue antibodies – created by the immune system to recognize and neutralize the dengue should a repeat infection occur – are unable to pin down and stop the advance of the Zika virus. This is particularly remarkable, considering the fact that the two viruses are from the same viral family.

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