By Stephenie Overman
In the fight against Zika, researchers in Brazil have turned to green tea.
The Zika virus is transmitted to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti mosquito. The World Health Organization reports a scientific consensus that Zika is a cause of microcephaly, a neurological condition in which an infant’s head is significantly smaller than average.
The disease, which originated in Uganda in the 1940s but until 2007 had only affected equatorial regions of Africa and Asia, has spread throughout South America and into the Caribbean. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that as of June 29, no locally acquired mosquito-borne cases had been reported in the United States but that 934 travel-associated cases had been reported.
A group of researchers supported by the São Paulo Research Foundation in Brazil found that EGCG, a polyphenol present in green tea, inhibits in vitro the entry of a Brazilian strain of the Zika virus into host cells. They reported their findings in the September 2016 issue of the journal Virology.
“This is the first report demonstrating that EGCG is a good possibility to be used in therapy and prevention of infections caused by the Zika virus,” the researchers stated.
They added that studies with rats suggest that EGCG appears to be safe for consumption by pregnant women and it could be an important tool to help prevent damage to human embryos.
The researchers noted that no vaccine or approved drug is currently available for the treatment and prevention of infections by this virus and that during the Zika outbreak in Brazil there was an increase of almost 20 times the number of reported cases of microcephaly in newborn babies.
Despite the encouraging results of their study, the researchers said, “some considerations regarding this compound pharmacokinetics [the branch of pharmacology concerned with the movement of drugs within the body] must be done. Previous studies have demonstrated that EGCG is chemically unstable; it has a low permeability membrane as well as being rapidly metabolized by the organism… before its effective implementation, factors such as… the safety evaluation of its use for pregnant women should be improved.”