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Friday, July 12, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

WHO Says Zika Vaccine|at Least 18 Months Away

(CN) - A reliable test for determining if a patient has contracted the Zika virus is weeks away but a vaccine will take at least 18 months, the World Health Organization said Friday.

Zika has gained the attention of the international scientific community following its rapid expansion across 29 nations in Latin America and the Caribbean. At least three have been confirmed killed and 4 million people are possibly infected with the virus, the WHO estimated in January.

The virus' symptoms are generally mild, but its potential connection to two neurological disorders presents significant risks, particularly to infants and pregnant women. These disorders are microcephaly, which leads to shrunken heads and brain damage in babies, and Guillain-Barré syndrome, which causes the immune system to attack the nervous system and leads to temporary paralysis and sometimes death.

Concern has escalated as Zika has spread outside of Latin America, with travelers bringing it back to their home nations including the United States. A case of Zika being transmitted by sexual contact was reported Feb. 3 in Texas.

Florida has had the most confirmed cases of the virus at 18 as of Thursday. Gov. Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency in seven counties, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has provided test kits and other materials to the Sunshine State, as well as training for health professionals.

While there are multiple methods of testing for Zika that have been released or are still being studied, the WHO cautioned none of them have been proven to be fully effective.

At least 10 companies and academic groups are developing tests that detect the presence of Zika in a patient's blood or measure the level of antibodies in a potentially exposed individual.

"These tests have not already been validated, and this is a very important step," Dr. Marie-Paule Kieny, assistant director general for health systems and innovation with the WHO said at a news conference in Geneva.

At least 15 vaccines are currently being tested, but they will take time to be fully reviewed and implemented.

"Our knowledge of what is currently in the pipeline tells us that it will take approximately 18 months before a vaccine can be launched in large-scale trials to demonstrate efficacy," Kieny said.

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