Scientists investigating the Zika virus are asking people who have been exposed to mosquito-borne illnesses while visiting tropical regions to donate blood for research.
Travelers to parts of Africa, Southeast Asia, India, and Central and South America may be eligible to participate.
“We're interested in any healthy adults that may have been exposed, or have confirmed past infections, with either dengue, chickungunya or Zika virus,” said Dr. Matt Collins, an infectious diseases fellow at the UNC School of Medicine.
The World Health Organization reports Zika infections in 65 countries. The mosquito-borne illness is linked to severe birth defects, including microcephaly, in which an infant is born with abnormal brain development and an unusually small head.
The first locally-acquired case of Zika was reported in Florida last month.
Like Zika, dengue and chikungunya are spread through the bite of infected mosquitoes. Collins said people who have contracted one of the diseases may have developed antibodies that could be useful in creating diagnostic tests or a Zika vaccine.
“We're particularly interested in understanding, within all the different types of antibodies that a person may make, which ones of those are the most useful for preventing infection,” said Collins.
He noted travelers don’t have to have had a confirmed diagnosis to be eligible to donate blood, nor does the exposure have to be recent.
“If they were on a trip with someone who was diagnosed and they were also bitten by mosquitoes a lot, or if they were in Central and South America and came down with a fever and a rash and never knew what it was, but they got better, those would be of high interest to us,” said Collins.
Collins said the volunteer blood sample initiative has previously been used at UNC's de Silva lab to study the dengue virus. For more on the study, or to find our if you're eligible to donate, contact the lab.