Zika virus set to spread across Americas

Zika virus set to spread across Americas


The mosquito-borne Zika virus, which has been linked to brain damage in thousands of babies in Brazil, is likely to spread to all countries in the Americas except for Canada and Chile, the World Health Organization said on Monday.Zika transmission has not yet been reported in the continental United States, although a woman who fell ill with the virus in Brazil later gave birth to a brain-damaged baby in Hawaii.Brazil’s Health Ministry said in November that Zika was linked to a foetal deformation known as microcephaly, in which infants are born with smaller-than-usual brains.Brazil has reported 3,893 suspected cases of microcephaly, the WHO said last Friday, over 30 times more than in any year since 2010 and equivalent to 1-2 percent of all newborns in the state of Pernambuco, one of the worst-hit areas.The Zika outbreak comes hard on the heels of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, demonstrating once again how little-understood diseases can rapidly emerge as global threats.”We’ve got no drugs and we’ve got no vaccines. It’s a case of deja vu because that’s exactly what we were saying with Ebola,” said Trudie Lang, a professor of global health at the University of Oxford. “It’s really important to develop a vaccine as quickly as possible.”

Large drugmakers’ investment in tropical disease vaccines with uncertain commercial prospects has so far been patchy, prompting health experts to call for a new system of incentives following the Ebola experience.”We need to have some kind of a plan that makes (companies) feel there is a sustainable solution and not just a one-shot deal over and over again,” Francis Collins, director of the US National Institutes of Health, said last week.The Sao Paulo-based Butantan Institute is currently leading the research charge on Zika and said last week it planned to develop a vaccine “in record time”, although its director warned this was still likely to take three to five years.British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline said on Monday it was studying the feasibility of using its vaccine technology on Zika, while France’s Sanofi said it was reviewing possibilities.


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