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CDC to Continue Efforts to Fight Zika Virus in the New Year

The year 2016 may be over, but the fight against the infectious disease that dominated headlines for most of the year—Zika virus—has only just begun.

The year 2016 may be over, but the fight against the infectious disease that dominated headlines for most of the year—Zika virus—has only just begun.

For the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the coordinated response continues. Indeed, it has been nearly a year since the agency launched its Emergency Operations Center to combat the mosquito-borne virus, which surfaced in Brazil and the Caribbean in late 2014 before landing on Florida’s shores last summer (and in southern Texas in December). On December 30th, the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), summarized the agency’s response to Zika, noting that it “joined the global health community to rapidly address the many emerging public health needs on the frontlines.”

“Fighting Zika is the most complex epidemic response CDC has taken on, requiring expertise ranging from pregnancy and birth defects to mosquito control, from laboratory science to travel policy, from virology to communication science,” CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH said in a statement. “CDC experts in every field will continue to protect women and their families from the devastating complications of this threat.”

The MMWR summary notes that the agency issued travel guidance for pregnant women; published clinical guidance for the care of pregnant women, their fetuses, and infants; highlighted vital research findings regarding sexual transmission of the virus and the causal link between the virus and birth defects such as microcephaly as well as neurologic conditions (Guillain-Barré syndrome); established programs to monitor blood safety and availability, developed and distributed laboratory test kits and reagents, coordinated vector and pregnancy surveillance protocols, and improved access to “reversible contraceptive methods” to reduce unintended pregnancies and, thus, Zika’s impact; and implemented vector-control strategies, particularly in south Florida.

Going forward, according to the MMWR report, the CDC’s “top priority… is to protect pregnant women” by continuing to enhance “mosquito control and personal protective measures, collaborating to accelerate vaccine development, developing improved diagnostic testing, improving contraceptive access to reduce unintended pregnancies, and improving understanding of long-term outcomes for infants exposed to Zika virus.”

Recent articles have cited the CDC’s recommendations and shined the spotlight on potentially overlooked areas for protecting pregnant women such as the role of men in Zika virus protection. Researchers stated that men need to be included in the public health education efforts to ensure they are fully aware of the important role they play in helping to protect their spouses and partners from infection.

Additional recent efforts outside of the CDC’s include the development of a new coalition that aims to drive innovation in the area of vaccine development. This new initiative is called the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), and the goal is to fight the global problem of infectious diseases; the Zika virus being one of them.

Researchers from various institutions also continue to join the fight against this mosquito-borne illness and several from the University of Maryland School of Science recently made some headway into learning more about how the virus attacks cells. By utilizing fission yeast, once used to make beer, the researchers were able to identify 7 proteins of the Zika virus they determined to cause the most damage to cells. Moving forward, these findings could help guide future research on approaches to protect against the virus.

Brian P. Dunleavy is a medical writer and editor based in New York. His work has appeared in numerous healthcare-related publications. He is the former editor of Infectious Disease Special Edition.