Zapping Zika


Recently, the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), a subsidiary of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), announced exciting news in the fight against Zika.  Not only have they made progress regarding potential medication, but they have also begun researching a possible vaccine to enable immunity against the devastating disease.


The Zika virus, whose name is derived from the Uganda Zika forest (where the virus was first identified in 1947), is spread by diurnal Aedes mosquitos.  Prior to 2007, the virus was mostly contained within limited parts of Africa and Asia.  However, the virus spread east between 2007 and 2016 across the Pacific Ocean to Latin America and beyond.  To date, Zika has been reported in over sixty countries.  Adults who are infected with the virus may develop a fever which can be alleviated with acetaminophen.  Furthermore, Zika can result in the development of Guillian-Barre Syndrome or other neurological dysfunction in adults.


Additionally, a truly dangerous feature of the Zika virus is that it frequently attacks the brain cells of the developing fetus in utero.  This may lead to fetal microcephaly, small sized head due to an underdeveloped brain, or brain malformations.


Fortunately, researchers at John Hopkins University and Florida State University have been developing a medication to treat the virus.  The compound under investigation contains both emricasan (a drug being explored for its potential benefit against certain liver diseases) and niclosamide (an FDA-approved medication used to treat worm infections).  Finally, several cyclin-dependent kinase (CDK) inhibitors were associated with decreased brain cell death in the NCATS research.  (CDK inhibitors interfere with cellular reproduction, and this class of drugs is often used to treat cancer and prevent cancer cells from spreading.) It is unclear whether or not the medication is safe for usage during pregnancy.  Further research is warranted to determine safety for expectant mothers.


Furthermore, the NIH released on August 3, 2016 that they have initiated clinical trials with a potential Zika vaccine.  The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), a different branch of the NIH, has gathered approximately eighty volunteers (aged 18-35) who are being followed at three different study centers.  Researchers are analyzing the immune system’s response to the proposed vaccine.  However, the clinical trial is merely in the early stages, so results will probably be unavailable for some time yet.

Fortunately, advances in potential Zika prevention and treatment are underway.  Until then, it is wise to plan vacations accordingly, especially if you are attempting to become pregnant in the near future.  Please refer to this information released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for more detail.