Researchers 'on the fast track' to a vaccine to fight Zika - WMBFNews.com, Myrtle Beach/Florence SC, Weather

Researchers 'on the fast track' to a vaccine to fight Zika

(Source: City of Hartsville) (Source: City of Hartsville)

SOUTH CAROLINA (WMBF) - Researchers say they are on the fast track to developing a vaccine for the Zika virus.

This is big news, as thousands of people from around the world are expected to travel to one of the main countries being affected by the virus for the 2016 Olympic Games.

"I think it's more when rather than if," said Dr. Tony Fauci, with the Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. "If we get an effective vaccine it would most certainly be used not for the general population like we do for polio or other vaccines."

Fauci believes a vaccine could be tested in areas hard hit by the virus as early as January. It would still have a ways to go and many more tests before it would be widely used, but he said it will mostly be targeted at women of child-bearing age.

"You want to protect pregnant women," Fauci said. "That's the critical issue. Because apart from pregnant women, Zika is a mild disease."

Pregnant women are especially being urged to stay away from countries like Brazil, host of the 2016 Olympic Games.

"Pregnant women should not travel to areas where there is any local transmission of Zika," Fauci said.

The virus is very harmful to babies in the womb, causing issues with development like microcephaly. However, for most other adults, Fauci said they do not need to cancel their plans to head to Rio.

"August, which is their winter and our summer," Fauci said. "The amount of infections has already diminished in Brazil."

While countries like Brazil have been seeing local outbreaks for months now, the United States is relatively new to Zika carried by local mosquitoes, with two recent cases in Florida. South Carolina has only seen travel-related cases of the virus so far.

"We likely will see more," Fauci said. "We need to be prepared for that. The way you prevent that is good mosquito control and intensifying mosquito control efforts."

But with every new day, new complications with the virus are being discovered.

"We know that since it's in the blood that potentially it could contaminate the blood supply," Fauci said. "So now they are screening the blood in those areas in which there are local outbreaks."

Another problem researchers have been dealing with through the development of a vaccine is a lack of funding.

Fauci said it is unfortunate that researchers did not get initial appropriation from Congress before they left Washington for the summer.

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