New Virus Starts a Race to Find Vaccine 

Zika virusIn this Dec. 23, 2015, file photo, 10-year-old Elison holds his 2-month-old brother Jose Wesley, who was born with microcephaly, at their house in Poco Fundo, Pernambuco state, Brazil. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016, that it has found the strongest evidence so far of a possible link between a mosquito-borne virus and a surge of birth defects in Brazil. (Photo: AP)

The race is on to find a vaccine for the Zika virus, spread by mosquitos and causing brain damage in babies of women who are infected while pregnant.

Zika Causes Birth Defects

Currently there is no vaccine or treatment for Zika, which typically causes mild fevers and rashes, although about 80 percent of those infected show no symptoms. The real problem comes when pregnant women are infected, as the disease can cause microcephaly, a condition where infants are born with abnormally small heads, which can hinder proper brain development.

Zika is transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is also known to carry the dengue, yellow fever and Chikungunya viruses. And while the virus has not yet officially reached the US, that mosquito is here, which means Zika will likely spread to all countries in the Americas except for Canada and Chile, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The WHO also announced that the virus has already spread to at least 21 countries and territories since May 2015, and has affected as many as 1.3 million in Brazil. Bad news as Brazil is scheduled to host the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro this year. Officials say venues will undergo daily inspections to prevent the virus from spreading. South American governments including Brazil and Colombia are asking women to avoid pregnancy until they can find a vaccine, according to AP. In El Salvador, authorities have asked women to not get pregnant until 2018.

Last week the CDC issued a travel alert, suggesting pregnant women should avoid traveling to areas with Zika outbreaks.

Pharmaceutical companies researching their options for a vaccine

According to Reuters, GlaxoSmithKline is concluding feasibility studies evaluating whether its vaccine technology is suitable for the Zika virus. However, is it important to note that vaccine development typically takes 10 to 15 years.

Sanofi SA, which won approval late last year for the first dengue vaccine, has said it is also reviewing the possibility of applying its technology for Zika.

Japan’s Takeda Pharmaceutical Co Ltd said last week it was entirely focused on addressing dengue, and that its experimental vaccine was not designed to cover Zika.

A spokeswoman for Merck & Co Inc, which will likely be one of the first makers of an Ebola vaccine, said the company was not currently engaged in research to prevent or treat the Zika virus but were keeping an eye on the situation.

As of right now, the Brazilian Bhutanan Institute is the only known organization actively researching a vaccine for the Zika virus. The country’s government allocated new funds to the biomedical center to help it develop a new vaccine within 3 to 5 years.

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