Zika Vaccine Hopes Rise

Zika Vaccine Hopes Rise

Scientists at The Rockefeller Institute in New York City have discovered an antibody to the Zika virus in what could be a key step in developing a vaccine. The antibodies were found in people exposed to the virus in Mexico and Brazil and examined by the researchers. Four hundred individual blood samples were analyzed.
The Zika virus first made headlines in 2015, despite being discovered in 1947 in Uganda, when an outbreak in Brazil occurred, sparking fears of an outbreak across the Western Hemisphere. The virus is primarily transmitted by the Aedis aegypti mosquito, the same mosquito that spreads dengue fever and yellow fever. It is also possible to transmit the virus sexually. Contracting the virus does not prevent health concerns for most healthy adults, but it is known to cause severe complications for the fetus when a pregnant mother is infected. In that sense, the virus has much in common to the rubella virus, for which a vaccine was discovered in the 1960s.
During the initial outbreak of Zika in Brazil during 2015 and 2016, about 1.5 million infections occurred and 3,500 cases of birth defects attributable to the virus were documented. While fears of an immediate outbreak have softened, as of yet researchers have few tools at their disposal should another outbreak occur and pregnant women have been periodically advised to not travel to affected countries during their pregnancies. Even less practically, some leaders – including Colombia’s Health Minister Alejandro Gaviria – encouraged women to defer pregnancy altogether at the height of the outbreak.
Vaccines vary in structure, but generally, expose the body to a weakened or dead form of a virus which prompts the immune system to develop antibodies without the exposed person becoming sick. When the interaction of the Zika virus and antibodies were examined by researchers, they found that the antibody attacks the virus by pinching a specific ridge found in Zika. There is hopeful speculation that introducing only that specific part of the virus, the ridge, could create an effective vaccine.

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