Nearly two years after the Zika virus outbreak in the United States, the experience of the virus leaves the United States more prepared for future outbreaks NIH researchers say.
“The road map has already been written for us … hopefully the experience with Zika will allow us to respond in a much more efficient and effective way,” said Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the institute charged with researching the virus.
He added Zika’s ability to affect unborn and newly-born children with birth defects such as microcephaly made the characteristics of the virus and its outbreak unique.
Fauci explained that the virus’ arrival to Brazil allowed it to spread quickly within the country and across the American continent, eventually reaching the U.S.
“It was only in 2015, when the virus landed in Brazil … a country with an immunologically naive population … that’s when we started to see it was much more than an inconsequential viral infection,” Fauci said.
He added that after its discovery in 1947, medical community knew little about the virus prior to the outbreak in 2015.
“It was felt, incorrectly, that it was a relatively inconsequential disease,” Fauci said. “Eighty percent were without symptoms and the 20 percent who had symptoms were relatively mild”
With regard to a vaccine, Fauci explained that NIH is currently conducting human trials in Texas, South America and Central America.
According to the CDC, the Zika virus has mild to no symptoms in the person infected but can induce birth defects in unborn babies. The agency recommends protection from mosquito bites as the best form of prevention.
The World Health Organization estimates 223,477 confirmed cases of the virus since 2015.