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Published on August 10, 2016

MU Serves as Zika Resource for Missouri

In response to Zika virus health concerns, University of Missouri physicians and researchers are working together to provide information to the public about the virus and to stop its spread.

“At this time, no Zika cases have been spread by mosquitoes in Missouri,” said Christelle Ilboudo, MD, assistant professor of child health at the MU School of Medicine and pediatric infectious diseases physician at MU Health Care. “However, the first U.S. transmitted cases in south Florida have prompted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to release new guidance for people who live in or have recently traveled to that area.”

Christelle Ilboudo, MD

Christelle Ilboudo, MD

To aid in the educational effort, MU Health Care has developed several resources to provide updated information about the virus, with links to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The resources include:

  • A website with common questions and answers, informational videos and updated guidelines related to Zika at muhealth.org/zika
  • An informational phone line and email address dedicated to addressing public concerns about the virus at (573) 771-9452 and zika@health.missouri.edu

Ilboudo cautions that while Zika is an emerging health concern in the U.S., the impact of the virus is not the same as other infectious diseases, such as Ebola.

“The most typical symptoms of the virus are mild and last only a few days to a week,” Ilboudo said. “However, we believe that the virus can stay in the body for up to two weeks and once infected, an individual develops a level of immunity to future infections. Although there is a chance that it can be spread over a longer period of time through unprotected sex, the main concern with Zika is the virus’ link to birth defects, such as microcephaly.”

Microcephaly is a birth defect that can prevent a baby’s brain and head from developing properly. Zika can be passed from a woman to her fetus during pregnancy, and men infected with the virus also can spread it to their partners during sex. The CDC is studying the virus to determine other potential health problems it may cause during pregnancy.

Women and their male partners who are trying to get pregnant and have traveled to an area where Zika is actively transmitted should abstain from unprotected sex for eight weeks. Men who have not only traveled to an area where Zika is active, but also have symptoms of the virus, should abstain from unprotected sex for six months. Condoms, when used properly, can protect against the sexual transmission of Zika virus.

Zika is transmitted primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito, also known as the Asian tiger mosquito. Although this type of mosquito can still bite at night, they typically are aggressive daytime feeders.

“It’s important to understand the feeding pattern of Aedes mosquitos because the best defense against acquiring Zika is to prevent being bitten by an infected mosquito,” Ilboudo said.

Ilboudo offers these suggested measures to reduce the risk of being bitten by mosquitoes:

  • Use insect repellent that contains DEET.
  • Wear light-colored long-sleeved shirts and long pants when outdoors.
  • Stay indoors when possible, preferably in spaces with either air conditioning or windows and doors with screens.
  • Remove standing water around your home.

“While no locally transmitted Zika cases have been reported in Missouri, the Aedes mosquito is found in the state,” Ilboudo said. “With that potential, researchers and health professionals across MU are working together to answer unknown questions about Zika and prevent its spread.”

Alexander Franz, PhD

Alexander Franz, PhD

Alexander Franz, PhD, an assistant professor of veterinary pathobiology at the MU College of Veterinary Medicine, and his team of researchers are focused on genetically manipulating mosquitoes so they no longer support transmission of viruses to humans.

“While my team is focused on mosquitoes, other researchers are focused on creating vaccines and therapies for the people infected,” Franz said. “Both approaches are needed to successfully stop the spread of the virus and other mosquito-borne diseases.”

In addition to Franz, other MU researchers studying Zika include Donald Burke-Aguero, PhD, professor of molecular microbiology and immunology and biochemistry; Marc Johnson, PhD, associate professor of molecular microbiology and immunology; Stefan Sarafianos, PhD, Chancellor’s Chair of Excellence in Molecular Virology and professor of molecular microbiology and immunology; Michael Roberts, PhD, Curator’s Professor of Animal Science and a professor of biochemistry ; and Jeff Adamovicz, PhD, associate professor of veterinary pathobiology and director of the Laboratory for Infectious Disease Research at MU.

Click here for a high-resolution photo of Christelle Ilboudo.

Click here for a high-resolution photo of Alexander Franz.

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