Zika More Threatening Than Initially Believed

During a recent press conference, representatives from the CDC and NIAID agreed that the more researchers uncover about Zika, the scarier the virus appears to be.

On Monday, April 11, 2016, officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) discussed their recent discoveries regarding the Zika virus at a White House press briefing, noting that there is still much to be learned.

Recent Zika Discoveries

During the press briefing, both Anne Shuchat, MD, principle deputy director of the CDC, and Anthony Fauci, MD, director of NIAID, agreed that the more researchers uncover about Zika, the scarier the virus appears to be.

Dr. Schuchat stated that the virus is not only linked to microcephaly, but a range of other complications, such as prematurity and vision problems in infants, to state a few.

Watch the briefing here:

Here is @CDCgov today @WhiteHouse discussing what we know about the spread of #ZikaVirus: https://t.co/e9lY5ifqdK

— WH National Security (@NSC44) April 11, 2016

She also noted that Zika causes problems not just in the first trimester, but potentially during the entire pregnancy period.

Dr. Schuchat continued by stating that the CDC is working around the clock “to protect pregnant women, [and] to support the state and local health departments.” She also noted that the CDC has discovered that the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the vector responsible for the spread of the Zika virus, is currently believed to be present in 30 states.

Dr. Fauci, who also spoke at the briefing, stated that in control studies involving injecting monkeys with the virus, preliminary data showed that those monkeys that were pregnant exhibited viremia (the presence of viruses in the blood) for a significantly longer period than non-pregnant monkeys. These discoveries are significant since viremia was also exhibited in a Washington mother who had the virus in her blood for up to three weeks (normally a virus is only present in the blood for days).

Going further into detail about the neurological effects of Zika, Dr. Fauci stated, “In Vitro studies of getting the virus and putting it in neural stem cells, [show] that it has very strong propensity to destroy tissue, which could explain why, besides interfering with the development of the fetus, it might directly attack brain tissue even when the fetus is later on in the period of gestation.” This discovery is important in understanding how Zika can effect humans. Dr. Fauci then stated that a vaccine for the Zika virus will be available for Phase I trials this coming September.

Efforts to Combat Zika

Understanding the dangers of the Zika virus has led the Obama administration to lobby Congress for funds to combat the virus. The White House announced that there are plans on repurposing $510 million of existing Ebola funds to help fight Zika. The money will go towards vector-control efforts, development of diagnostics and vaccines, clinical support of known Zika patients (specifically pregnant women and infants), mapping and tracking the spread of Zika, and prevention methods in the continental United States as well as US territories and the Americas.

More recently, the CDC revealed that it will provide $3.9 million in emergency Zika funds to Puerto Rico, where there is the highest prevalence of local Zika transmission within United States territories, with 325 lab-confirmed cases.

The FDA had previously barred Puerto Rico from collecting blood donations from the island, for fear of viral transmission during blood transfusion, previously seen in Brazil, and asymptomatic French Polynesian blood donors who were found to have traces of Zika virus in their bloodstreams. In response, the usage of blood donations collected from areas of the continental US without active transmission of the Zika virus was recommended. However, with the approval of an investigational blood screen test, Puerto Rico was able to commence local blood donation collection on April 2, 2016.

According to a 2016 CDC survey of blood collection centers, there are no known cases of blood transfusion-transmitted Zika in the United States or Puerto Rico, to date.

In response to the current Zika outbreak, the CDC has activated its Emergency Operations Center at Level 1, the highest emergency level. Dr. Schuchat stated that the CDC predicts there to be hundreds of thousands of undiagnosed Zika cases in Puerto Rico. She further stated that the CDC is working with local officials to control the mosquito population and is distributing Zika kits to pregnant women to help prevent them from being infected with the virus.