GENEVA - International scientists and experts meeting at the World Health Organization agree on the urgency of developing vaccines and diagnostic tools to combat the Zika virus, which is being linked to microcephaly, a brain disorder in newborn babies.
The three-day consultation is the first time experts in the fields of virology, immunology and related fields have come together to take stock of the state of Zika research and development and to see how product development can be accelerated.
The Zika virus is a generally mild, harmless infection. But its possible association with microcephaly, as seen in an upsurge of thousands of cases in Brazil, is making the need to develop diagnostic and preventive tools a matter of urgency.
WHO Assistant Director-General in charge of Zika Research and Development Marie-Paule Kieny says researchers are responding vigorously to this need. She says more than 60 groups are working on diagnostics, vaccines, therapeutics, and vector control.
She says vaccine development is still at an early stage and months from human clinical trials.
“It is therefore possible that vaccines may come late for the current Latin American outbreak, but the development of a vaccine remains an imperative, and in particular vaccines suitable for pregnant women and women of child bearing age," said Kieny.
On the other hand, Kieny says Zika diagnostic development is at a more advanced stage. She adds the experts agree on the value of producing a multiplex test that can diagnose several infections that are spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, including dengue, chikungunya and Zika viruses.
Vector control experts say there is no evidence classical interventions, such as insecticide spraying, has had any significant impact on stopping the spread of dengue.
Since the same may be true for Zika, they recommend individuals in communities take greater personal control over getting rid of the disease-bearing mosquitoes by spraying inside their homes and removing stagnant water where they breed.