The FDA has given the green light to begin testing a Zika vaccine on humans that, it’s hoped, will block infection by the dangerous virus.
Tests on Inovio Pharmaceutical’s Zika vaccine, called GLS-5700, should begin within the next few weeks now that the Food and Drug Administration has given its approval. Inovio says the drug has shown good potential to prevent Zika in animal trials.
Currently, no vaccine exists for the Zika virus. This human test will study whether this experimental drug is safe, how well the test subjects tolerate it and whether the drug is able to create an immune response to the Zika virus. Inovio hopes to report interim results later this year.
Zika is linked to serious birth defects
The Zika virus has been linked to a severe birth defect called microcephaly which which occurs when a woman is infected during pregnancy. The baby of an infected woman is often born with a very small head and incomplete brain development. There have been reports of other birth disorders and also a possible link to Guillain-Barré syndrome (a disorder in which the immune system attacks the nervous system).
“As of May 2016, 58 countries and territories reported continuing mosquito-borne transmission of the Zika virus,” says Inovio President and CEO Dr. J. Joseph Kim. “The incidences of viral infection and medical conditions caused by the virus are expanding, not contracting.”
As of June 14, 2016, the CDC had received no reports of locally transmitted Zika cases in the continental United States. However, some travelers have been infected outside of the U.S. and returned home with the disease. Health officials are very concerned that, sooner or later, these imported cases could result in local spread of the virus in some areas of the U.S. Locally transmitted Zika virus has been reported in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and, most recently, in American Samoa.
The Zika virus is spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected mosquito. It can also be transmitted through sexual contact. The Centers for Disease Control says that most people never know that they have been infected with the virus. It is estimated that four out of five people with Zika virus infections have no symptoms at all. When symptoms do occur, the most common symptoms are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). Even in those who develop symptoms, the illness is usually mild, with symptoms lasting from several days to a week.