Zika virus may have hitched a plane ride going to Brazil during a 2013 soccer tournament, a new study has found.

In the first ever genome investigation of Zika virus, an international team of scientists suggest that the entry of the virus to the Americas first occurred nearly three years ago. This period was when major events in Brazil happened and increased flights to the country from Zika-affected locations were noted.

Shedding A Whole New Light To Zika Virus Introduction And Emergence: A Genetic Study

The study involved obtaining samples of Zika virus genomes connected with the latest epidemic in Brazil. The samples include one from a blood donor, one from an adult with a fatal case and one from a newborn infant with microcephaly and other congenital anomalies.

The team used an advanced genetic sequencing technique to map out the gene codes of the specimens. They found later that the samples had very subtle differences among them.

Such finding suggests that Zika virus entered the Americas in a single period, possibly between May and December 2013, which is more than 12 months before the virus was first noted in Brazil.

The authors also looked into airline records and found that the said time concurred with a 50 percent increase of air passengers going to Brazil and an outbreak of Zika virus in the Pacific Islands.

Enter Soccer Into The Picture

The increased rate of air passengers may be explained by the major events that happened in Brazil during that time.

The research states that there exists published assumptions as to how Zika virus could have possibly entered Brazil. One is during the 2013 Confederations Cup soccer tournament, which was held from June 13-30, 2013. Some of the participants in this competition came from French Polynesia.

Another hypothesis is during the 2014 World Cup soccer tournament, which happened between June 12, 2014 and July 13, 2014, or during the Va'a canoe event in Rio de Janeiro from Aug. 12-17, 2014.

As per analysis, the entry of the virus to the Americas predated events. The molecular timeline is much more consistent than the sports events, yet it is worthy to note that the Confederations cup commenced before the the first case of Zika was reported in French Polynesia.

Good Start Yet Much More To Be Done

All in all, the work has highlighted the possible significant contribution of studying large patterns of human mobility in how viruses enter and emerge. Such is said to be more useful than formulating hypotheses that focus on particular events only.

"There is a lot of work still to be done in terms of tracking and predicting the spread of Zika in Brazil," says study author Nuno Faria from Oxford University and Evandro Chagas Institute.

Still, the study provides a good foundation for future research and Faria says there may be a much better understanding of Zika before 2016 closes.

Until then, the members of public should take extra precaution, follow health agency protocols, apply the best mosquito repellents and avoid traveling to Zika-affected regions to prevent being infected.

The study was published in the journal Science on Thursday.

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