The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the clinical trial of an experimental vaccine for the Zika virus Monday.
The vaccine will start its first human testing during the next few weeks. Animal testing of the vaccine appeared promising and triggered a “robust antibody response.” The results of the testing can be expected late this year.
“We are proud to have attained the approval to initiate the first Zika vaccine study in human volunteers,” Dr. Joseph Kim, the president and CEO of the drug company which developed the vaccine, said in a press statement.
Despite the promise, there are years of testing and development work ahead before patients could receive a protective shot from their doctor. The vaccine is a rapid response to the virus, which has quickly emerged as a global health threat.
There are currently 756 cases of the Zika virus confirmed in the continental U.S. as well as another 939 in American territories, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The vast majority of the cases were from people who traveled to a Zika-prone country, such as Brazil. Another 1,436 cases have been reported in U.S. territories, mostly in Puerto Rico.
The officials linked Zika virus infections in pregnant women to fetal deaths and devastating birth defects such as microcephaly, when a baby is born with an abnormally small head. Laboratory studies, however, have confirmed the presence of Zika virus in the blood, tissue, brains and amniotic fluid of fetuses and babies diagnosed with microcephaly. The CDC estimates that there are 234 pregnant women with any laboratory evidence of possible Zika virus infection in America.
A study published in March by the National Center for Atmospheric Research found that the Zika-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquito could spread as far north as New York City this summer if the weather is warmer than average.
The Zika virus likely won’t spread as prolifically in the U.S. as it has in Latin America and the Caribbean, due to the high amount of Americans living and working behind air-conditioned doors. The study also found that small numbers of the mosquitoes can survive in much of North America during spring and fall when temperatures cool.
The virus is spread by the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, which lives in tropical climates. Outbreaks have a history of occurring in Southeast Asia, according to the CDC, but not in Vietnam. The World Health Organization has said the virus has been reported in 61 countries, mostly in Latin America and Western Pacific region.
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