Spotlight on the MHP Research and Public Health

Silvio Martinez Headshot

On December 16, 2019, Nature Communications published an article entitled, “Impacts of Zika Emergence in Latin America on Endemic Dengue Transmission.”  The work was co-authored by current MS3 and Medical Honors Program (MHP) alumnus, Silvio Martinez. 

Silvio entered the MHP in the Fall of 2017.  During his MHP year, his research was in the Department of Biology and Emerging Pathogens Institute, under the guidance of Dr. Thomas Hladish.  Silvio completed most of his Zika virus laboratory work during his MHP year, and he then used his first two years of medical school to write out plausible research drafts for the eventual publication.

In terms of background, in 2015-2016, there was a Zika epidemic in South and Latin America. In these same countries, there is also a predisposition to another Flaviviridae, Dengue. Interestingly, transmission rates of Dengue virus were abnormally low after the Zika epidemic in the afflicted countries. The research team hypothesized that cross-protection resulting from the prior Zika virus spread, led to lower cases of Dengue virus infections for a period of time. However, they predicted that when this period of cross-protection would end, a second wave of Dengue transmission would spread, characterized by increased severity of disease. 

Using a hierarchical time series model, the research team focused on data from Colombia and Brazil.  After extensive analysis, their findings supported the hypothesis as they demonstrated an initial suppression of Dengue transmission where Zika had been, and a greater resurgence of Dengue, once the cross-protection period ended.  Obviously, the implications of this work are relevant to us today as public health officials from around the world are currently investigating COVID-19 transmissions in terms of waves, severity of disease, etc.    

Overall, Silvio’s research regarding Zika and Dengue have contributed to our current knowledge on these important viral relationships.  Well done Silvio!    

Silvio Research