Zika virus: Separating Fact from Fiction at Wilmslow SciBar

News article 23 Jun 2016

This week LSTM’s Dr Lee Haines, a postdoctoral researcher in Vector Biology, spoke at Wilmslow SciBar at The Old Dancer bar in Wilmslow.

Her informative and engaging talk entitled Zika virus: Separating Fact from Fiction on the current Zika virus outbreak in South America was given to over 40 members of the public over food and drinks. Her talk began by introducing the problem of Zika virus representation by the media, the different routes of transmission to humans, the epidemiology of the current outbreak, clinical symptoms and the issues surrounding diagnostics and surveillance of those infected with the virus.  She went on to describe the evidence backing the association between Zika infection and microcephaly in Brazil and contrasted this to reports from Colombia.  She further described many other neurological abnormalities in babies and adults (like Guillain Barre Syndrome) that are now strongly linked to Zika.

The highlight of the talk was when Dr Haines demonstrated the life cycle of the Aedes mosquito using live mosquitoes and larvae (kindly supplied by LITE), which simultaneously drew interest and horror from the audience. The giant Aedes aegypti mosquito model, graciously on loan by the IVCC, added a brilliant new dimension to her presentation. She explained the current strategies for controlling the mosquito populations, and called into question the efficacy of vector control strategies such as fogging, source reduction and the addition of larvicide into drinking water. Dr Haines also explained some of issues and conspiracy theories surrounding Zika.  She finished her talk by summarising the conclusions from the WHO expert meeting from June 14th and discussed today’s vaccine announcement by Inovio Pharmaceuticals and what it really means.

Questions from the public touched on a variety of topic areas including herd immunity, controversy over the Olympics in Rio, travel advice and insight into why Brazil may be struggling with Zika virus disease more than other Zika-endemic countries.

Dr Haines commented: “What an amazing venue to host a SciBar! Fantastic pub, amazing food and a completely engaged audience. It is always nice to waylay unfounded public fears and increase the understanding and complexities of this scientifically fascinating disease.  It was reassuring to see that despite a majority of inaccurate media reports, people would still be excited to see Olympians and Paralympians in Rio”.  She continued: “I truly love to watch how mesmerizing a live, 4th instar mosquito larvae can be to a person who has never stopped to investigate the carnival of creatures living in their birdbath.”

Lee would like to make a special thanks to Marion Morris and Jen McDonald from LITE for the mosquito specimens that were used during her talk. For more information about the Wilmslow Scibar, please visit their Facebook page.

If anyone is interested in taking part in similar public engagement activities, please contact Public Engagement Manager Elli Wright.