As the Zika virus continues to spread across the Americas, scientists and health organizations are pressured to develop a vaccine as soon as possible. Several birth defects have been linked to this mosquito borne virus, raising health concerns in the international community.
Zika has managed to infect 23 countries and territories in the Americas so far. The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that over 3 to 4 million people may become infected. With 3,700 reported cases of birth defects that may be related to Zika, Brazil has been impacted by this illness the most.
“The level of concern is high, as is the level of uncertainty,” Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO’s director-general said. “We need to get some answers quickly.”
Microcephaly is a birth defect that causes newborns to have atypically small heads and underdeveloped brains. In Brazil, researchers have been trying to understand the effects of Zika on pregnancy. Health officials have not formally connected the Zika virus to the birth defects, but they have strong suspicions that there is a direct relationship between the two.
Currently, there is no treatment or vaccine available for Zika infections. Though numerous organizations and researchers are working to develop effective vaccines, it will take at least a year to develop a safe vaccine. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has increased its staffing at hand in order to tackle Zika.
“We do not have a vaccine for Zika yet,” Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said. “The only thing we can do is fight the mosquito.”
Infected female Aedes mosquitoes spread Zika, yellow fever, and dengue through their bites. In order to slow down the spread of Zika, people have focused on eliminating mosquitoes.
The WHO, which has been criticized for its slow and inadequate actions to West Africa’s Ebola outbreaks, will be convening in future meetings to discuss its course of action to contain this virus and help those in need.