The Zika virus is kind of scary.
The disease hides in mosquitoes and can be spread by a bite. And for most people, Zika’s symptoms are pretty mild — a little joint pain and maybe a fever.
But for some folks, the symptoms might be more severe. Some victims may develop the potentially fatal Guillain-Barré syndrome. And most perniciously, if a pregnant woman is infected, the virus can cause a serious birth defect known as microcephaly in her unborn child.
Althought the disease has been around since the 1940s, it’s been gaining attention lately after being newly introduced in South America.
The World Health Organization declared a public health emergency in February 2016 because of Zika’s quick spread.
And the pope even suggested contraceptives could be used to slow its spread — a big gesture from the leader of the Catholic Church.
But we just had a major breakthrough in fighting off this disease: a vaccine.
On June 20, 2016, Inovio Pharmaceuticals and GeneOne Life Science announced that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have given them permission to test an experimental vaccine on human subjects.
This would be the first Zika virus vaccine.
This is just the first step in fighting Zika, but it’s an exciting one.
The companies will start the process by giving the vaccine to a small group of 40 people to see if the drug is safe and tolerable for patients to take. This test will also be their first chance to see how effective it is for humans. (Previous animal studies showed promise, but that doesn’t always translate to humans.)
Granted, there’s still a ways to go. Depending on the test results, it could be a few years before we see widespread use of a vaccine like this.
And if this vaccine works, it could help a lot of people.
As of June 2016, Zika is live and spreading in more than 60 countries, and the World Health Organization estimates that Zika could infect as many as 4 million people in North and South America by the end of 2016.
It’s not being transmitted in the continental United States (although there have been about 750 travel-related infections reported), but it has been found in Puerto Rico.
On Feb. 22, 2016, President Obama requested $1.9 billion in emergency spending to help combat the virus. And Rep. Vern Buchanan, a Republican from Florida, recently announced his support of the request.
“People’s lives are at stake,” said Buchanan, “the time for inaction is over.”
The Zika virus is kind of scary. But thanks to research like this, we may be able to beat it in the next few years.
That will be an incredible win.