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risk of zika transmission in Latin America shown on a mapThe Zika virus is one of a group of viruses (the flavivirus) which are transmitted by insects and related animals. It was first discovered in the Zika Forest in Uganda in 1947, but it is currently an emerging infection across the Americas. There is currently no vaccine to prevent Zika infection, and no specific drug to treat it. Evidence of the molecular pathology, cellular physiology and immunology of the virus is also scarce.

Zika Virus Vaccine Programme to respond to this epidemic threat has therefore been put into place at The Jenner Institute,Nuffield Department of Medicine, are prioritising the development of a Zika vaccine, with the aim of testing vaccine candidates in an early pre-clinical model in the next few months.

As part of the NDM-Mexico collaborative project, Professor Reyes-Sandoval has produced several memoranda of understanding with health Institutions and leading research universities in Mexico, with the aim of improving local research capacity, and opening up  access to a vast number of patient samples in Mexico. This capability is currently being used to better understand the immunobiology of the Zika virus. This information will in turn inform vaccine development.

About the Zika virus

Zika is transmitted in humans by Aedes mosquitoes that have acquired the virus by feeding on an infected person. From its initial identification in 1947, two genetically distinct lineages (Asian and African) of the virus have now been reported. The Zika virus causes an illness similar to that caused by the related dengue virus. Symptoms include fever, a characteristic skin rash and conjunctivitis, as well as headache, vomiting and muscle pain. Reports of severe illness and fatalities from Zika virus infections are rare.

Most worrying, infection with the Zika virus may lead to microcephaly in newborns: about 4,180 cases of microcephaly have been identified in Brazil so far, and numbers are continuing to rise, according to Zika Infection, a collaboration with ISARIC and colleagues at FIOCRUZ, WHO, Institut Pasteur, ERASMUS, PREDEMICS, ANTIGONE, iDAMS, PREPARE Europe, REACTing (Aviesan), and the German Centre for Infection Research (Institute of Virology – University of Bonn Medical Centre) hosted on The Global Health Network. Zika virus infections have also been reported in many countries in Asia, the Americas and Europe, but most cases are currently occurring in Latin America, including in Mexico, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Brazil, French Giuiana, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay, Haiti, Martinique and Puerto Rico.