Searching Zika Virus: Different Databases, Different Approaches

Recent outbreaks of infectious disease – Ebola a few years ago and, currently, Zika – force us to think about our interactions with animals, insects, and even viruses. In the case of Zika, the preventive measure of completely eliminating all mosquitos seems impossible, as does the prospect of eliminating all infected birds, bats, and pigs.

The BIOSIS database, part of the Web of Science™, will retrieve articles on the characteristics and symptoms associated with the Zika virus, along with those for Zika’s larger virus family. Pertinent, retrieved articles will also describe the behavior of host animals before human infection occurs.

When it comes to animals that sometimes serve as human-disease vectors, nature compels us to either “live separately, or wisely.” Here is one example of how we live with a virus in real life.

The following graphs compare search results from BIOSIS and MEDLINE on the family name of the Zika virus, "flaviviridae," which is also the family name of the causative viruses for hepatitis C, West Nile, Dengue fever, and others. The reason I elected to search the family name rather than the term “Zika virus” is that the latter name is not yet common in the literature, such that a search will result in a relatively small quantity of a few hundred hits in both BIOSIS and MEDLINE. If physicians and other researchers were to simply rely on searching the name of the virus, they would miss many related articles on the virus family, whose members might display usefully similar characteristics.

The graph on the left features results from BIOSIS, an index that features wide coverage, including all living domains (human, insect, animal, virus), and which yields a greater number of results than MEDLINE. The main focus of MEDLINE is medical science, so 81% of its search results in this case consist of records related to human diseases. BIOSIS, on the other hand, focuses more broadly on biology, including microbiology. Therefore, BIOSIS includes more data for the virus in non-human contexts, such as in connection with other vector animals, with some 60% of the records pertaining to humans.

Most doctors use PubMed (the web version of MEDLINE) rather than BIOSIS, so I believe that most physicians approach the matter in terms of eliminating the illness or its symptoms, as opposed to engaging in wide-ranging study of the virus or its extended family. You might be surprised to learn that the development of a Zika vaccine is expected to require three to ten years. (Disease Briefing: Zika Virus Infection, Powered by Cortellis™.)

BIOSIS results provide more virus-related material to study, beyond just the human/medical aspects, potentially providing physicians with additional approaches to dealing with the virus. In other words, a mode that emphasizes "living with” rather than "eliminating.”

As Hiroshi Kida, Hokkaido University Research Center for Zoonosis Control, has written, "Recently, emerging and reemerging infectious diseases, such as SARS, Nipa, Hanta, Hendra, influenza, Ebola virus infections, pneumonic plague, and leptospirosis, are constantly appearing worldwide, and become of major concern to public health. All of these diseases are zoonoses whose causative agents infect both humans and animals. The agents are originally harmless in their natural host wild animals and occasionally transmit to other animal species including humans, causing infectious diseases."

The “living with” mode is not a new idea. Historically, we overcame or controlled zoonotic diseases such measles, mumps, and T-cell leukemia. We cannot simply await the future development of Zika virus vaccines. We can learn more about a virus which is harmless in its natural wild-animal hosts. This will, I hope, provide insights that will permit us to “live with” the virus, wisely.