In DepthInfectious Disease

The race for a Zika vaccine is on

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Science  05 Feb 2016:
Vol. 351, Issue 6273, pp. 543-544
DOI: 10.1126/science.351.6273.543

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Scientists first isolated Zika virus in 1947, but the disease it caused in humans was considered mild: It did nothing to 80% of the people it infected, and the ones who had symptoms only had temporary fevers and rashes. But last year, a high number of cases of brain-damaging microcephaly in newborns began to surface in Brazil in lockstep with the arrival of the Zika virus, which is spread by mosquitoes. The World Health Organization on 1 February declared these clusters of disease a "public health emergency of international concern," and a rush of vaccinemakers has jumped into the race to develop a preventive. Vaccines exist against several other flaviviruses, the family Zika belongs to, and experts predict that this won't be a major scientific challenge. They also say it may be possible to piggyback on the other flavivirus vaccines, like ones made for dengue and yellow fever. Then again, vaccine R&D takes time, and because this effort is starting from scratch, researchers say it will take at least a few years before a vaccine can prove itself safe and effective in large human efficacy studies.