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Two years removed from Zika outbreak sees researchers still working towards a vaccine

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Almost two years after the initial outbreak, a Zika vaccine is still in the works, with researchers confident they are moving closer to a finished product. Along with Ebola, Zika was the main story on the news for several months during 2015/2016, when both were raging in West Africa and South America, respectively. Whilst both epidemics were effectively managed, the lasting effects of Zika on children born with the disease and the continued threat of mosquitos who still carry it is continuing to drive researchers to find a lasting solution.

Global_Aedes_aegypti_distribution_Prediction Map (2015)
Global Aedes aegypti distribution Prediction Map (2015) for mosquitoes that carry Zika virus

Since the initial epidemic, cases of Zika have reduced drastically thanks to mosquito control and awareness programs, but thousands are still affected by the infection, especially children who were born to infected mothers. Microcephaly, which is the underdevelopment of the head and brain, as well as a nervous system disorder, Guillain-Barre syndrome, are known symptoms.

Microbiologist Zika research
“This image depicts Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Microbiologist, Dr. Jane Basile, a staff member in the Fort Collins, Colorado, Division of Vector-Borne Diseases (DVBD), who was in the process of preparing reagents that would be used in the CDC-developed Zika IgM antibody-capture enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), referred to as the Zika MAC-ELISA test.” credit: CDC/ Sue Partridge, CDC- Ft. Collins

Due to the complex nature of Zika, researchers have had a hard time trying to create a vaccine that caters for all the symptoms without causing other issues. That being said, great progress has been made towards creating a fully functioning vaccine, and there is hope that it will be available relatively soon. Dr. Stephen Thomas, a professor of infectious disease with the State University of New York Upstate Medical University in Syracuse explained to the press just how their work was progressing:

“The pace of R&D for a Zika vaccine is incredibly brisk. Truly, some groundbreaking strides have been made in very short periods of time. However, it remains to be seen whether or not the developers will be able to demonstrate efficacy in a classic trial.”

At this point, it is expected that a vaccine will be available in the next four years, with three leading candidates currently undergoing human trials after successfully passing animal testing. During those tests, all three vaccines protected lab mice and monkeys from the Zika infection and the ensuing microcephaly that usually affects the offspring of infected individuals.

Although the animal testing was successful, it is often as far as many pharmaceuticals progress, with results in humans not always as evident. It is for this reason that many researchers are tempering their expectations until they are able to analyse the first couple batches of data from the human trials. Oscar Alleyne, an epidemiology expert from the National Association of City and County Health Officials echoed those sentiments, expressing cautious optimism about the progress of the vaccines.

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