Zika Virus Treament: Vaccine, Cure Still A Decade Away: Scientists

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Jan 28, 2016 04:39 AM EST

RECIFE, BRAZIL - JANUARY 26: Grandmother Ivalda Caetano holds Ludmilla Hadassa Dias de Vasconcelos (2 months), who has microcephaly, at Oswald Cruz hospital on January 26, 2016 in Recife, Brazil. In the last four months, authorities have recorded close to 4,000 cases in Brazil in which the mosquito-borne Zika virus may have led to microcephaly in infants. The ailment results in an abnormally small head in newborns and is associated with various disorders including decreased brain development. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the Zika virus outbreak is likely to spread throughout nearly all the Americas. At least twelve cases in the United States have now been confirmed by the CDC. The Brazilian government announced it will deploy more than 200,000 troops to combat the mosquitos which are spreading the Zika virus. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images) (Photo : Getty Images)

The mosquito-borne Zika virus that is linked to unusual brain deformity in thousands of babies in Brazil is predicted to spread in almost all countries in Latin America. The government is beginning to research into a possible vaccine for Zika virus.

There is no known cure or vaccine for Zika virus. It has already affected more than 20 countries causing panic mainly in Brazil where thousands of people have been infected.

Now, the United States government is beginning to search for a possible vaccine, according to BBC reports. The research is being led by scientists at the University of Texas Medical Branch. They have visited Brazil to collect samples that are being analyzed in a suite of high-security laboratories in Galveston.

Access to the building is strict with police and FBI controlling the premises.

However, researchers warn that it could take years for the vaccine to be developed. Typically, vaccines could be ready for testing in two years time. However, it may take another 10 years for it to be approved.

"This is not going to be overnight," Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) said in an interview Tuesday, U.S. News reports.

NIH researchers have started initial work a few months ago. They also have plans to increase funding to a number of Brazilian scientists to advance Zika-related research. The team intends to use existing vaccines for dengue fever and similar infections as a platform for their work. Dengue fever, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis and West Nile disease are caused by the same member of the flavivirus family.

U.S. News further reports that President Barack Obama met on Tuesday with his senior health advisers, including Fauci, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell and Centers for Disease Control Director Thomas Frieden. The White House has urged them to expedite research for possible vaccines and cure.

In an exclusive interview with BBC, professor Scott Weaver, director of the Institute for Human Infections and Immunity, said that there's no way to reverse the effects of microcephaly once it develops. The result could leave the child mentally incapacitated for life and, worse, it could be fatal.

The Zika virus was first discovered in 1947 in Uganda's Zika forest. The first human infection was recorded in Nigeria in 1954. The disease was ignored by the scientific community thinking there's not enough risk involve.

In the past year, the cases have increased significantly, infecting thousands across Latin America.

There's evidence that Zika can be transmitted through saliva and semen, although this is rarely the case. However, the main concern goes out for the unborn babies since Zika is difficult to diagnose. Researchers admit that they are still at the beginning stages in formulating a vaccine.

For more information about the Zika virus, check out the video provided by BBC:

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