The Zika virus is a mosquito-borne member of the genus flavivirus, which includes dengue fever, yellow fever, West Nile virus, and other viruses that cause significant human diseases. The symptoms include but are not limited to: fever, rash, joint pain, muscle pain, red eyes and headache. Although not particularly deadly in most adults, the virus is extremely deadly to pregnant woman. The virus is known to cause severe birth defects. Zika reportedly causes microcephaly, and other problems that affect the eyes, hearing, and growth. Areas that are affected with Zika also have higher rates of Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare and serious disorder of the nervous system.
Researchers from University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston, Southwest University in Chongqing, China, and the University of Leuven in Belgium have come up with a powerful new tool for studying the Zika virus, as well as creating vaccines and antiviral drugs. This tool is known as a "replicon system". The replicon system creates versions of the virus that are stripped of genes that make them infectious, making them safer to work with. Replicons are portions of the viral genome that can replicate on their own, without relying on the machinery of the host cell. Thus, the replicons can be used to locate portions of the viral molecule that block production, becoming extremely effective in vaccine development.