As fears about Zika continue to grow, steps are being taken to prepare the US for summer and mosquito season. President Obama will ask Congress for $1.8 billion in emergency funding, the CDC raised its status to Level 1 and 12 companies around the world are working on vaccines.
U.S. Response to the Zika virus
In order to fund necessary steps to combat Zika before it has a chance to get a foot hold in the US, the White House announced Monday they were requesting emergency funding from Congress. In addition to US based mosquito control programs, vaccine research, education and improving health care for low-income pregnant women, Obama’s spending proposal includes $355 million in foreign aid to South America, Central America, the Caribbean, where the Zika virus is spreading most rapidly. The World Health Organization declared an international public health emergency last week, warning that the mosquito-borne virus is strongly suspected as the cause of a cluster of cases of microcephaly, a neurological disorder that afflicts the babies of pregnant women with the virus.
The President’s request comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that its emergency operations center has been put on a “Level 1” status — its highest level of activation — because of the Zika outbreak. The CDC has only put its operations center at Level 1 three times in the past: during the Ebola outbreak in 2014; during the H1N1 pandemic in in 2009; and after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Work on Vaccines and Diagnostic tests pushed forward
According to a NY Times article, at least 12 groups, including several biotech and pharmaceutical companies, are working to develop a Zika vaccine. Health authorities said they were also working to ensure development proceeded as rapidly as possible. The World Health Organization said it was important to establish speedy regulatory pathways, although all the vaccines remained in early-stage development and licensed products would take “a few years” to reach the market.
The only good news is that since Zika is similar to dengue, yellow fever and West Nile virus, for which vaccines exist or are being developed, they could provide a starting place. France’s Sanofi, which already has vaccine for dengue, is working on that approach.
The London-based European Medicines Agency (EMA) said it had established an expert task force on Zika to advise companies working on vaccines and medicines, mirroring similar action during Ebola and pandemic flu outbreak in 2009, recognizing that significant challenges need to be overcome. Scientists know relatively little about Zika and the group viewed as most at risk are pregnant women.
Research is also being done on prophylactic medicines against Zika, which would work in the same way as drugs to stop people catching malaria, and the development of better diagnostic tests,which is another high priority. Currently, it is hard to differentiate Zika from other similar so-called flaviviruses, such as dengue. The WHO said diagnostics were “a top urgency”. It issued a call to interested companies on Feb. 5 to submit potential products for emergency quality assessment, so that successful tests could be put to use quickly.
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