An outbreak of the Zika virus in South America has the WHO advising pregnant women against travel and predicting that the virus could spread throughout the Americas.
The Zika virus has been making headlines recently. An outbreak of the virus in South America has the World Health Organization (WHO) advising pregnant women against travel and predicting that the virus could spread through out the Americas.
But what is the Zika virus? Put simply, it’s a mosquito-borne disease; originally discovered in Uganda in 1947, it is common in both Africa and Asia. However, the disease did not start spreading in the west until May 2015, following an outbreak in Brazil.
Sharing a common thread with dengue, yellow fever and West Nile virus, the most common symptoms of the Zika virus include fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) notes that illness is usually mild, with symptoms lasting anywhere from several days to a week. While only one in five people infected with the Zika virus develop Zika, there are some severe cases of the disease that require hospitalization.
As mentioned, the Zika virus is spread when a mosquito bites an infected person and thereby becomes infected as well. It can also be transmitted to newborns when the mother is infected with the Zika virus at the time of delivery — that said, the CDC does note that this is a rare instance. The center also notes that there has been on case of Zika being transmitted through infected blood and another case through sexual contact.
The CDC is also currently exploring the possibility that the Zika virus is transmitted from mother to fetus. The reason for this investigation stems from a rise in the number of babies born with microcephaly, a birth defect that seriously limits a child’s mental and physical abilities, in Brazil dating back to November 2015. At least 40 infants have died recently, which has prompted researchers to warn that that number could multiple. In 2015, Brazil counted at least 2,782 cases of babies born with microcephaly, which is significantly higher than the 147 case recorded in 2014.
Virus expected to spread
The World Health Organization is currently warning that the Zika virus has the potential to spread throughout the Americas. As it stands, instances of the disease have been seen from Brazil to New York.
Spread by the Aedes mosquito, which are found in all countries in the Americas except Canada and Chile, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has highlighted that “Wherever there is dengue, there is mosquito, then it will spread and not just in Americas I think there is a very real chance it will spread in Asia.”
Companies work towards Zika vaccine
While the CDC claims deaths from the Zika virus are not a common occurrence, the disease has no cure. The New York Times reported that the CDC does not “recommend a particular antiviral medication for people infected with the Zika virus” as when symptoms, which are mild when they do appear, will only require rest, hydration and nourishment.
Still, with fears of Zika spreading across the globe, several companies have come forward in an attempt to develop a vaccine to combat the Zika virus.
South Korea-based biopharmaceutical firm, GeneOne Life Science (KSE:011000) and Inovio Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:INO) have started a collaborated research program to test and advance a DNA-based vaccine aimed at preventing and treating the Zika virus infection.
Clinical Leader writes the companies are “leveraging their past experience in designing and testing novel DNA-based vaccine for related viruses including West Nile, dengue, and chikungunya viruses.” In fact, the companies are currently collaborating on two phase 1 stage vaccine candidates for severe infectious diseases such as Ebola and MERS.
As for the Zika virus, the vaccine candidate is currently undergoing preclinical animal studies, aimed at evaluating immunogenicity.
Also looking into a possible vaccine for Zika is GlazoSmithKline Plc, (LSE:GSK) which is in the midst of conducting a feasibility study to identify if its vaccine technology would be suitable for Zika.
Securities Disclosure: I, Vivien Diniz, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.