In February 2016, the World Health Organization felt it was its duty to declare an international Zika virus emergency. At the end of 2016, when the emergency was repealed, the virus had infected people in 60 countries, with six countries seeing it as a sexually transmitted disease.
This crisis has spurned scientists into action – to come up with a way to get control over the virus. To this day, there is still no approved vaccine that will protect people from Zika. That doesn’t mean there is no hope!
Zika research has been encouraging.
In the Science Advances journal, University of Adelaide in Australia researchers have discovered that their experiment involving mice has successfully protected them from the virus and its infections. While the research hasn’t been tried in humans, it’s the start that shows signs of being promised for humans.
The Zika virus, which is spread from mosquitos to humans, was first noted in Brazil. While the infections usually don’t cause symptoms, they can lead to Guillain-Barre Syndrome and birth defects. Guillain-Barre is a rare neurological disorder that may cause some adults to have paralysis.
A considerable problem with Zika is that it is a sexually transmitted virus, and a person doesn’t have to be symptomatic to pass it to their partner.
When someone is infected with the Zika virus, the body’s antibodies work to fight the infection by going after the virus’ envelope, which hides it from the body’s immune defenses. While many vaccine trials have gone after the envelope, it’s been found that a person becomes more vulnerable to other viruses like it like dengue.
Due to that, ]the researchers of UofA in Australia went with another approach altogether. They created a vaccine that used genetically-modified DNA to spur the immune system into action and neutralize the Zika virus. This vaccine type has demonstrated itself to protect the body from various kinds of flaviviruses, which is the family the Zika virus belongs to.
Researchers, wanting to test out their theoretical vaccine, injected into the ears of young mice (six to eight weeks old). They got three doses of the vaccine for a period of several weeks. By the time the experiment ended, the immune system had built up such a strong immune response that the mice were protected against the virus.
Scientists usually use mice to test out early forms of vaccines and drugs, but they tend to fail once they move to the human trials stage. While mice may be protected from the Zika virus with the vaccine the researchers came up with, it could be quite sometime before an effective and safe vaccine against Zika is found in humans.
Still, it’s proof that a vaccine is closer to being developed, and people will be protected from the Zika virus. The researchers said the vaccine could be manufactured on a full scale very next to nothing, and be safe for children and reproductive-aged women.