Scientists have built great strides towards the diagnosis of and vaccination for the virus in record time
As an infectious disease physician, scanning breaking news headlines for stories about Zika is a work-related hobby. The latest bit of bad news to cross the wire, on Thursday, was the verification that mosquitoes in Miami Beach harbor the Zika virus.
Reading this announcement, the public might rightly be pessimistic about the medical communitys ability to cope with emerging infectious diseases Zika just seems to keep on spreading. However, despite the politicization of the disease and the difficulties individual local health agencies may have marshaling resources, the scientific communitys response so far has actually been a resounding success.
In the span of less than a year, the scientific and medical worlds have moved at a breakneck speed, likely not assured since the daybreak of the HIV pandemic, to not only unravel the mysteries of this virus but to provide a pathway to ultimately extinguish its ability to threaten our species.
When Zika, a virus believed for decades to be almost entirely benign, seemed for the first time in the western hemisphere, it coincided with a remarkable spike in numbers of newborns with microcephaly, a devastate and extremely costly condition that leads to cognitive impairment, developmental postpones and early death. This sort of brain damage was never before associated with Zika, or with any cancer like it.
A major scientific endeavor and indeed the driving force behind the World Health Organizations( WHO) quick declaration of a public health emergency was required to establish whether these two events were merely correlated, or if a causal relationship existed. In a remarkably short span of time, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention( CDC) set Zika through Shepards criteria, a rigorous series of steps help establish causation for fetal abnormalities like microcephaly. A similar establishment of causality was induced for Zikas role in the autoimmune neurologic ailment Guillain-Barr syndrome.
Concurrently, separate efforts to develop a vaccine effective against Zika prospered, leading to at least two nominee inoculations( with more to follow) already moving into human trials. Laboratory diagnostics for Zika, which were virtually non-existent a year ago, are now available all over the world and will probably become even more refined and accessible after the WHO took steps to internationally standardize the stres of Zika used in research and development this week.
It is crucial to realize that these diagnostic tests have not yet been formally licensed for employ by the US Food and Drug Administration( FDA) but have been made available through Emergency Use Authorizations. These emergency authorizations are the result of important legislation that emphasized the absolute need to eliminate bureaucratic hurdles in the midst of a public health emergency.
Indeed, a whole section of the FDA the Office of Counterterrorism and Emerging Threats was created years ago for simply this very reason, and this offices efforts in prior emergencies, such as the 2009 flu pandemic and the 2014 Ebola outbreak, altered the course of those outbreaks for the better.
More basic scientific questions have also been probed by multiple research groups and have uncovered the viru proclivity for traversing the placenta to reach the fetus, and the molecular pathways the immune system uses to combat the viru assault. This week, researchers also found that we may be able to repurpose a tapeworm medication to fight Zika, which would fast-track the process of delivering the drug to the market, because it is already approved by the FDA.
With each outbreak, leaders in the fields of infectious disease and public health preparedness become more skilled as they incorporate the lessons of the past into their knowledge base. The prosper of the human species is directly related to our ability to minimize the impacts of these threats.
There is a tendency with every outbreak of cancer to ensure the litany of negative headlines and hear the hoof beats of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The onu caused by Zika, thus far, has been sizable, and for those families in which a pregnancy was affected, incalculable.
However, the historic scientific and medical advances that have characterized the replies to the Zika outbreak indicate the profound advancement of modern science, and ultimately how far we have come in tackling global threats of disease.
Read more: www.theguardian.com