Protect against zika

Top scientists around the globe are working and using new technologies to find out whether new trends in vaccinations could help protect against Zika. With the most recent and most popular public health crisis at the forefront of international attention –the Zika virus outbreak– the world is bringing new information, methodology, literature and scientific measures at a pace that keeps followers baffled. Now, scientists hope to set a world record for the speed at which they can develop a Zika vaccine, and new technologies are helping them along the way.

These novel prevention and intervention procedures could change the way that the public health field addresses epidemics, namely viruses.

Leading the pack with the first grant, biotech company Inovio received approval from the Food and Drug Administration to conduct an experimental Zika vaccine trial on humans. They have already been able to prevent the virus from taking hold in monkeys, and Harvard Medical School reports developing two successful Zika vaccines that have shown promise in mice.

Although many companies and institutions are gunning to be the first, funding can be problematic. President Obama said that a Zika vaccine could be produced relatively quickly should Congress provide a budget for it. Democrats struck down a bill allotting 1.1 billion dollars to research for the vaccine because of tacked-on, unrelated political moves. The president attributed the denial of the bill to typical politics.

Despite this setback, new technology still allows for research to be conducted by private institutions. A relatively recent bit of tech called DNA vaccination now allows current Zika researchers to develop effective vaccines. This form of the shot only contains a fraction of the viral DNA, as opposed to an entire viral unit, allowing the production of these treatments to be more cost effective and less dangerous.

In the past, one pitfall for researchers was the potency of the vaccine. This type of shot has to enter a cell in order to take hold (unusual in the world of vaccines), so it became necessary to invent new delivery technologies. Now, an electric shock may replace the classic puncture-style injection– a development claimed by Inovio.

So, can new trends in vaccinations help protect against Zika? Researchers hope to have a successful answer and vaccine in mass production by 2018.

Connor Borden

Photo: Pixabay

Major Diseases in the Dominican Republic

Hepatitis and typhoid fever are major diseases in the Dominican Republic, which occur as a result of contact or consumption of contaminated food and water. According to the CIA World Factbook, mortality rates for typhoid fever can reach as high as 20 percent if left untreated.

The zika virus and malaria, two major diseases in the Dominican Republic, are also a major concern for the Caribbean nation. On January 23, 2016, the National IHR Focal Point for the Dominican Republic recorded 10 cases of Zika, eight of which were acquired locally and the other two imported from El Salvador.

In response, public health authorities continue to educate citizens about the risks.

Many individuals infected with the zika virus and malaria only experience mild symptoms that last for a few days to a week, such as fever, rash, joint and muscle pain, headache and conjunctivitis.

However, Zika poses a much more severe threat to pregnant women, who can pass the virus to their fetus, leading to potential birth defects like microcephaly, as well as hearing deficits and impaired growth.

Though no other cases have been reported in the country since, it is still important that citizens take precautions to avoid infection.

Since the outbreak, participants from the International Student Volunteers (ISV) program and Seattle-based organization Education Across Borders have focused their efforts on reducing the risk of the Zika virus and malaria.

ISV launched its unique international travel program in 2002, and more than 30,000 people have participated since then.

Volunteers from the Seattle Preparatory School spent the beginning of their summer lending a hand to the third world country. While partaking in these trips, individuals learn to convert compassion into action for the common good.

Seattle Preparatory students helped prevent further spread of the virus by supplying mosquito nets that will help hundreds of Dominicans in the affected areas. Along with providing aid in the form of physical resources, volunteers brought energy and readiness to the neighborhood worksite.

The Borgen Project had the opportunity to interview rising senior Olivia Smith who visited a poor town outside the city of Santiago called Franco Bido with her travel group. While there, the group helped to build a home for one family in need.

On her experience, Smith states, “My eyes were opened after coming face to face with the problems they deal with everyday and I realized just how much giving my time and assistance helps them. Although I was only there for five days, I built unforgettable relationships with the community. Our efforts toward constructing an additional bathroom or shower will go a long way in a place where different diseases are so easily transmitted.”

Smith also mentioned that many individuals do not have access to mosquito nets, making it harder to steer clear of bites.

While major diseases in the Dominican Republic continue to affect citizens and travelers, groups like ISV and Education Across Borders continue to implement solutions and strive to leave a lasting impact on the communities in need.

Mikaela Frigillana

Photo: Education Across Borders

Zika Vaccine

Since May 2015, the Zika virus epidemic has plagued many nations and continues to spread to more. However, the mosquito-transmitted disease may soon be eradicated with the development of a new Zika vaccine.

On Monday, June 20, 2016, reports went viral when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) approved the following drug developers to initiate human clinical trials for the Zika Vaccine: Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc, based in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania, and GeneOne Life Sciences Inc, based in Seoul, South Korea.

Both Inovio and GeneOne have co-created vaccines for Ebola and MERS, which are also undergoing efficacy testing.

The vaccine, labeled GLS-5700, will be enrolled in a phase I study. This study will include 40 healthy volunteer human test subjects who will be given the vaccine to measure the safety, tolerability and effectiveness of the drug.

The initial trials are scheduled to begin July 2016, and should they yield successful results, they will be promoted to phase II clinical trials. These trials will test GLS-5700’s efficacy on people who have already contracted the Zika virus.

If these phase II trials are successful, then the Zika vaccine will be tested on a large experimental group before it is finally approved for the field.

So far, the Zika virus has affected 58 countries and territories and continues to expand. Initially believed to be harmless, the virus is transmitted by the mosquito species Aedes aegypti. If it is contracted by a pregnant woman, it can cause a neurological birth defect known as microcephaly.

Optimally, the Zika vaccine will be ready for public use by early 2018. Currently, more plans are being made to begin phase II trials in early 2017, which will be conducted by the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NSAID) based in Bethesda, Maryland.

Jenna Salisbury

Photo: Health Impact News

Private sector roundtableFormally started in 2014, The Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) has been an important facilitator of international discussion about global health issues, communicable disease threats and their solutions.

Now, the GHSA has launched a new initiative: the Private Sector Roundtable (PSRT). PSRT aims to bring privatized industries into the fight for a better standard of global health.

Headed by Johnson & Johnson, as well as the GE Foundation, the Private Sector Roundtable strives to organize the previously scattered efforts of the private sector in global health issues. Although private partners have participated in previous coordinated worldwide efforts, the PSRT will streamline those efforts to achieve maximum effect.

As was clear with the global response to Ebola, and as is now clear with the uptick in instances of Zika virus, timely responses are of the utmost importance in combatting global outbreaks. The GHSA hopes that the Private Sector Roundtable, and by extension the private sector, will adopt a “unique role” in developing a greater standard of global health.

They hope to accomplish this by investing in and developing new ways to combat the spread of outbreaks such as Zika and Ebola. As stated by the Global Health Security Initiative, “the mission of the PSRT is to mobilize industry to help countries prepare for and respond to health-related crises, and strengthen systems for health security.”

Two years ago, when Ebola outbreaks were at their highest, the rapid and efficient distribution of personal protection equipment proved vital in halting the spread of Ebola. Hopefully, the private sector will help in future fights by facilitating the development and distribution of the equipment and services that the world needs.

Although the Private Sector Roundtable is young and relatively small — 20 companies have pledged as members of the fledgling organization — the future Roundtable could be a powerful international cohort of private companies, aiming to accomplish public good.

Sage Smiley

Photo: Flickr

Prevent the Zika Virus

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the “Zika virus disease (Zika) is a disease caused by the Zika virus which is spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito.” The disease can cause symptoms like fever, rash and joint pain, although most symptoms go unnoticed. Learning to prevent the Zika virus, then, is imperative.

The most severe symptom is microcephaly, which is a birth defect that causes babies to be born with smaller than average-sized heads. This is of grave concern to pregnant women or women who are trying to become pregnant who have traveled or have partners who have traveled to countries where the disease is present.

Although there are currently no vaccines for the disease, there are five easy steps you can take to prevent the Zika virus from reaching you or your loved ones:

  1. Wear the right repellant. The CDC recommends wearing repellant registered by the Environmental Protection Agency because it contains ingredients such as lemon eucalyptus oil and DEET. Repellants registered with EPA are also evaluated for effectiveness.
  2. Use clothing as a repellant. Wearing long sleeves and pants in a place where mosquitos present can also reduce your risk of a Zika virus infection. It is even more effective if the clothes are treated with permethrin.
  3. Avoid exercising outdoors. Mosquitoes are attracted to carbon dioxide and heat, both of which are heavily emitted when exercising. To avoid being swarmed by mosquitoes, it is best to exercise indoors in an air-conditioned room.
  4. Properly secure buildings. Residing in buildings that have screens over its doors and windows and are properly ventilated with air-conditioning can prevent mosquitoes from entering and protect you while you sleep. Placing netting over cribs and strollers can help protect babies as well, especially since they may be too young to safely use mosquito repellant.
  5. Practice safe sex. The Zika virus disease can be transferred from men during unprotected sex. To prevent transferring the disease, using condoms and abstaining from sex are the best methods after or during visitation to a country with the Zika virus. This information is crucial for women who are trying to become pregnant.

The fight to eliminate the Zika virus has skyrocketed, resulting in incredible scientific innovations. For instance, scientists from the U.K. have released genetically modified male mosquitoes who cause populations of local mosquitoes to fall.

Another technique includes inserting a gene drive into mosquitoes to make them unable to host the Zika virus within their bodies.

Researchers are also utilizing cellphones to track and record people’s movements and use this data for documenting Zika hotspots throughout the world.

As more techniques on how to prevent the Zika virus are discovered, all hope that the spread of the disease can be contained effectively.

Julia Hettiger

Photo: Flickr

An international team of researchers has developed a low-cost and portable product for detecting the Zika Virus. After using their device to test for the Zika virus in monkeys, the researchers are looking to product development as their next step.

The test is nucleic-acid based and has three steps: amplification, Zika detection, and CRISPR-Cas9-aided strain identification. Amplification is necessary because the viral load in samples such as saliva is significantly smaller than the viral load present in samples like urine.

Once the sample has been amplified, it goes into an RNA sensor called a toehold switch. The team’s research paper states that the switch can “be designed to bind and sense virtually any RNA sequence.” The RNA sensors are deployed via a paper disc that provides a sterile and abiotic environment for them. The paper changes color from yellow to purple if positive.

In the final step, the gene-editing mechanism, CRISPR-Cas9, searches the whole gene sequence for genetic markers. According to the Harvard Gazette, this step allows it to differentiate between strains of the Zika Virus.

This process improves upon previous tests which performed serum analyses that tested for the antibodies to certain viruses. In the past, this led to false positives, as the tests were unable to differentiate between the Zika Virus and close relatives like the dengue virus that share a geographical range.

Similarities between the targeted Zika Virus genomic sequences and those of the dengue virus range between 51 to 59 percent.

To ensure the accuracy of their test, Keith Pardee, a faculty member of the University of Toronto, told ResearchGate that the researchers exposed their test to low and high concentrations of the dengue virus, as well as “off-target regions of the Zika genome.” It differentiated between the target genome and everything else successfully.

All three components of the test can be freeze-dried for storage and distribution without damaging their effectiveness, which allows them to be sent to rural clinics for use. This means that even low-resource areas could have access to faster and more accurate tests for the Zika Virus. Previously, Pardee said, people needed to travel to urban areas for such accurate tests.

In an interview with ResearchGate, Pardee noted numerous potential benefits of the team’s test. It could potentially track the Zika Virus outbreak, and it would help physicians to more quickly identify and treat the infected. Physicians can also then take precautions to ensure the virus doesn’t spread.

Anastazia Vanisko

Photo: National Cancer Institute