It’s been two years since a mosquito-borne Zika virus case has been reported. However, becoming complacent could be deadly for newborns. That’s the warning from scientists.
On the fear that Zika will reemerge, scientists are diligently working to develop a vaccine using a particular bacteria that would neutralize the disease-carrying mosquitos. And, researchers say newborns are the most susceptible to the virus than they even considered before. They said the complications extend beyond what was seen in 2016 with tiny heads and development problems that could affect their quality of life.
Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security senior scholar Amesh Adalja said Zika is still a substantial public health threat because it can lead to severe congenital malformations. Adalja said there are signs that the fight in avoiding another worldwide panic is progressing positively.
According to the World Mosquito Program, the introduction of the Wolbachia bacteria has helped to eliminate 96 percent of dengue cases in Australia. Success was also seen in the areas of Brazil and Indonesia, with a 70 percent drop in the number of dengue cases.
Scientists said the Wolbachia bacteria fight with the viruses in a mosquito, which is then maternally passed to the offspring.
World Mosquito Program spokesman Dale Amtsberg said the introduction of Wolbachia has made it more difficult for the virus to replicate themselves in the mosquitos, which means the chance for human infection is less. With more mosquitos catching the Wolbachia bacteria, it would help to reduce the rate of infection for Zika, dengue and other mosquito-borne illnesses.
The program is set to launch another trial in Brazil in the cities Rio de Janeiro and Niteroi, Campo Grande, Belo Horizonte and Petrofina.
Amstberg said though the 2016 Brazil outbreak has been alleviated, there are lingering fears of its return. He said there are plans currently in the works to protect 1.5 million people with the release of Wolbachia-carrying mosquitos to fight against impending Zika outbreaks.
Although there are no licensed Zika vaccines, the National Institutes of Health said it was getting good feedback on a phase two trial that involves over 2,000 people throughout the South and Central Americas, Puerto Rico, Houston, Miami and Mexico. It appears that the shots are safe and create an immune response. However, until an epidemic strikes, it’s not known if the vaccine is fully effective.
The world was shocked by pictures of Latin American babies who had extremely tiny heads.
The Obama White House offered color-coded maps that showed the risk of Zika spreading as far as San Francisco and New York City while demanding Congress to appropriate $2 billion to the fight. The government also advised pregnant women not to enter certain Miami neighborhoods with known Zika cases.
In 2016, Florida saw over 200 mosquito-borne cases, mostly around the Miami area. Texas noted six cases that same year. And, in 2017, Florida had two known cases while Texas had five near the border.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Zika is no longer at the forefront of people’s minds. Still, the outbreak severity has helped to produce a population immunity that limited the impact it has on the Northern Hemisphere.
Still, Dr. Adalja said, it’s not the same as eliminating the disease altogether.
He said population immunity decreases over time with new people being born, allowing the disease to re-emerge. Adalja said some populations with a low immunity might find themselves infected with the Zika virus.
The World Health Organization reported Zika was showing up in other places in the world such as India, Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand and France.