View the latest health news and explore articles on fitness, diet, nutrition, parenting, relationships, medicine, diseases and healthy living at Health Channel :)family tree can reveal a lot, especially if it belongs to a microscopic troublemaker with a knack for genetic shape-shifting.DNA sleuthing can outline the route an emerging pathogen might take once it makes landfall in the Americas and encounters a wholly unprotected population. It’s a modern take on old-fashioned public health surveillance strategies that focused on the exhaustive collection and analysis of samples from the field. Now they’ve been bolstered by rapid genome sequencing — and the result can be a picture of an epidemic rendered in exquisite detail, and in near-real time.For those trying to anticipate the shape of the next pandemic of human disease, the resulting road map could be invaluable.Three independent research groups demonstrated the promise of such an approach by creating a family tree of the Zika virus, the latest scourge to hit the Americas. Their work was published Wednesday in the journal Nature.The family tree reveals that the virus may have made landfall in Brazil sometime in late 2013 or early 2014, probably arriving from a group of Pacific islands then in the grips of an outbreak.Upon finding ideal conditions in northeastern Brazil — including dense human populations and hordes of the Aedes egyptii mosquitoes that spread the virus — Zika circulated widely throughout the country for more than a year before its presence was first detected in mid-2015, one of the studies found. By then, physicians had begun to take note of a sharp rise in births of babies with unusually small heads — the first of 2,366 babies with Zika-related microcephaly eventually born in Brazil by the end of 2016.But the Zika virus didn’t stay put. By late 2014, it had broken out of Brazil and was circulating in the Caribbean, following a well-worn path of human migrants. As 2015 dawned, the same strain was also tearing through the populations of Honduras and Colombia.Brazil’s final direct export of Zika was to Puerto Rico, where it began to circulate widely in 2015.
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