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Scientists test Zika vaccines and treatments by infecting volunteers, aiming to find effective solutions.

Scientists Safely Infect Human Volunteers with Zika Virus

Important Breakthrough in Zika Research

Researchers in the United States have made a significant breakthrough in the study of Zika virus. For the first time, they have successfully infected human volunteers with the virus, paving the way for a deeper understanding of the disease and the development of potential vaccines and treatments.

A Controversial Study

The study, known as a “controlled human infection model,” has previously been met with controversy due to the risks it poses to participants and the lack of available treatments. However, both U.S. regulators and the World Health Organization have deemed this new model, developed by a team at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, to be safe and scientifically important.

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The Dangers of Zika

Zika is a viral infection primarily spread by mosquitoes. While it is usually mild or asymptomatic, a major outbreak in the Americas from 2015 to 2016 revealed its potential dangers, particularly for pregnant women and their fetuses. Zika can cause devastating birth defects such as microcephaly, a condition characterized by an abnormally small head and brain in newborns.

The Need for Vaccines and Treatments

Currently, there are no vaccines or specific treatments available for Zika. The outbreak in the Americas ended before new solutions could be fully tested. However, with Zika still present in 91 countries and the potential for future outbreaks, developing countermeasures is crucial. Additionally, the mental health burden on pregnant women in endemic regions cannot be ignored, as they face limited protection options and constant worry about the virus and their babies.

The Study Process

During the study, the researchers infected 20 female volunteers (who were not pregnant or lactating) with two strains of Zika. All participants developed laboratory-confirmed infections, but experienced only mild illness. Another group of eight volunteers received a placebo. To minimize risks, the patients were admitted to an inpatient unit and closely monitored until they were free of the virus. They also agreed to use birth control methods for two months.

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Promising Future Research

The next step for the researchers is to evaluate the strains in male volunteers, as Zika can also be sexually transmitted. This will help assess how long the virus remains infectious in semen. Several vaccine manufacturers have already expressed interest in using these strains to test experimental products, showing promising advancements in the fight against Zika.

New Findings Presented at Conference

The data from this study was recently presented as an abstract at the annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene in Chicago, highlighting the importance of this breakthrough in Zika research.

With this groundbreaking research, scientists are now one step closer to developing effective vaccines and treatments for Zika. This could potentially save countless lives and prevent future outbreaks of this dangerous virus.

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