As concerns about the spread of Zika in the United States persist, experts across the country are working fastidiously to help monitor the spread of the disease and are seeking better understanding of how it affects the body. And now, researchers say a possible vaccine is only a year away.
Zika is a virus transmitted via mosquitoes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it has caused epidemics in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean.
“So far, Zika has not been transmitted in the continental United States,” infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Center Dr. William Schaffner said. “Now there have been a number of people who have gone to the Caribbean, been bitten [by a] mosquito, and came back with Zika infection.”
As for the United States, more than 500 people nationwide have confirmed cases of Zika. And so far, each case has been travel associated. However, 10 individuals contracted the infections via sexual contact, and 48 of the patients were pregnant women.
While Zika normally has relatively mild and flulike symptoms, the virus can cause devastating birth defects to the unborn children of pregnant women, including microcephaly.
According to the CDC, microcephaly is a condition where the baby’s head grows much smaller than expected. This occurs because the brain has not developed properly during pregnancy, resulting in a smaller head and developmental disabilities.
“When we first heard about Zika it was a new infection to this hemisphere, and we knew it was going to create this transient infection,” Dr. Schaffner said in an interview with BBC. “But we had no idea that if the virus infected a pregnant woman, it could get cross the placenta and infect the baby and cause fetal malformations.”
Doctors have also discovered that men can carry the Zika virus in their semen and reproductive organs.
In order to prevent the proliferation and spread of Zika, researchers are working diligently at an effective vaccine.
“Everyone would like a vaccine. There are a large number of drug manufacturers who are working on a vaccine but we are not close,” Dr. Schaffner said.
When they do become available, they may become a mainstay seasonal vaccine, similar to the flu vaccine.