Zika vaccine quest begins as WHO warns of spread to most countries in the Americas
- The WHO on Monday warned the mosquito-borne Zika virus will likely spread to almost all countries in the Americas, except for Canada and Chile. The virus has been linked to fetal microcephaly by Brazilian health officials.
- Microcephaly levels among newborns in Brazil exploded with 3,893 suspected cases reported this year—more than 30 times levels seen in any year since 2010. Since the first reported transmissions of the Zika virus in Brazil in May 2015, the virus has spread to 21 countries in the Americas.
- Work is underway to develop a vaccine against Zika, led by the Sao Paulo-based Butantan Institute. GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi have virus technology which may be useful in combating the virus, Reuters reports.
The "discovery" of the Zika virus dates back to 1947 when it was found in a monkey in a Ugandan forest. Historically, the virus has been found in African, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands. The World Health Organization is now predicting a surge of Zika viral infection cases due to lack of immunity among populations in the Americas along with the presence of Aedes mosquitos in those countries.
Without drugs or vaccines, the most commonly used strategy to prevent Zika infection in pregnant women is avoidance of areas infested with Zika-infected mosquitoes. Pregnant women are being warned to not attend the Olympic games in Brazil this summer. But, if the virus spreads as predicted, it will become more difficult to avoid transmission.
The clinical symptoms of Zika are similar to dengue. Due to the link between Zika and birth defects, experts are calling for rapid vaccine development, as well as further investigation of transmission routes.