Another Zika outbreak seems pretty plausible, according to new research

Scientists say it all comes down to one simple mutation.

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Not Now, Please

We all continue to obsess over COVID for obvious reasons, but it turns out there could be another virus plotting on us as we speak. This week, researchers at the La Jolla Institute for Immunology warned that Zika’s ability to mutate and evade previous infections could soon create another outbreak.

In case you’ve selectively forgotten, there was a big scary Zika outbreak in the U.S. in 2016. For adults, Zika infections can lead to flu-like symptoms such as fever, rash, headaches and joint pain, per the CDC. The outcomes are worse for pregnant women: Zika can cause gene mutations that hurt developing babies, causing them brain damage and microcephaly, a lifelong condition that causes the head to shrink.

The virus, which is mostly spread through mosquitoes in tropical and subtropical climates, infected at least 40,000 people in the U.S. and American territories, hitting Puerto Rico the hardest, per the CDC. There was also some transmission in Florida and Texas that led to some travel warnings, but the virus eventually faded away and we all moved on with our lives. Thankfully, Zika only reached epidemic levels, which is when an outbreak is confined to a single geographic area, per the World Health Organization, as opposed to a pandemic, which is what COVID is.

The next Zika outbreak might not let us off the hook so easily. According to the scientists’ report, Zika can mutate very fast. They figured this out by recreating infection cycles between mosquito cells and mice and found that an amino acid change facilitated Zika’s ability to take hold in the body and evade immunity from previous infections, per Science Daily. In other words, Zika is really good at making variants of itself.

There is currently no vaccine to prevent Zika, so the easiest way to stop yourself from catching the virus is by preventing mosquito bites the old fashioned way, via insect repellent. This certainly is not our cue to panic, since the findings are theoretical, but scientists feel this is an impending real-life scenario that could be avoided or at least mitigated. To me, it’s also a reminder to slap the shit out of mosquitoes whenever I see one.