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A Zika Vaccine Is Definitely Years Away

REUTERS/Fayaz Aziz

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Ethan Barton Editor in Chief
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National Institutes of Health officials think a Zika vaccine could be developed in three to four years, but Congress’s watchdog is skeptical.

“NIH officials have reported that a Zika virus disease vaccine may be developed within three-four years, but we believe it is likely to take longer,” the Government Accountability Office wrote in a Thursday blog post.

“NIH was ambitious in their predictions for developing a vaccine for dengue virus,” GAO continued. “Pre-clinical development began in 1999,” but NIH still hasn’t moved past clinical trials.

Additionally, “there are no reliable diagnostic tests for” Zika, GAO wrote. “Doctors can diagnose people based on their symptoms or by examining antibodies their blood. Since most people infected with Zika are asymptomatic, they may not see their doctors and, even if they do, their doctors may not examine their blood.”

Zika, which was first identified in the 1940s, “is suspected to cause microcephaly in newborns – significantly smaller heads that can lead to infant mortality” when pregnant women are infected, GAO said. The disease is mainly spread by a type of mosquito that lives in the southeastern part of the U.S, though “there have also been reports of Zika being transmitted through sexual activity.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported 258 cases of Zika in the U.S. as of March 16, all of which were travel-associated.

“Mosquito control is the best method to address the spread of Zika” until a vaccine is developed, GAO wrote. “This includes removing or treating standing water where mosquitoes breed, and spraying insecticides. Some have also proposed releasing genetically-modified mosquitoes that are engineered with a ‘lethal gene’ that kills mosquito larvae.”

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