Brazil, Us Develop Experimental Vaccines Protecting Unborn From Zika Virus

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"Zika virus infection during pregnancy can lead to a devastating array of birth defects, including microcephaly, abnormal reflexes, epilepsy, and problems with vision, hearing and digestion", said Catherine Spong, Deputy director of US National Institutes of Health's Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), which funded the work.

The team vaccinated groups of mice with one of the vaccines or a placebo. Brownsville, Texas, is a Zika cautionary area and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said pregnant women should consider postponing travel to the area.

"We are the first to show that vaccines can protect the developing fetus against the Zika congenital syndrome that we have seen in humans", he says.

"Testing of placental tissues from live births can continue to be considered when results of maternal Zika virus testing are not definitive or testing is not performed within the optimal time", the authors wrote.

With both vaccines, fetuses and placentas from vaccinated mice contained very low levels of Zika's genetic material.

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Human Rights Watch said that a failure by the Brazilian government to invest in better sanitation services, coupled with a lack of access to clean water for millions of favela residents, had significantly raised the likelihood of future outbreaks. More than 35 million Brazilians lack adequate facilities for the safe disposal of human waste.

Years of neglect, exacerbated by a recent economic recession, have contributed to water and wastewater conditions that allow Aedes mosquito populations to flourish, the report says.

Interviews revealed that some girls and women don't have access to reproductive health services, and many pregnant women said public health workers did not tell them that Zika can transmit through sexual activity, partly because of inconsistent or conflicting information from authorities.

Zika made global headlines when it was linked to an epidemic of babies born with microcephaly in Brazil.

Last year, Diamond and others developed a mouse model of Zika infection that mimics the effects of the infection in pregnant women. Earlier this week, the Indian media said a case was also detected in Tamil Nadu in the south. A health ministry official said the screening will be done as part of surveillance for other birth defects, and the Zika-specific component will start soon and be done on an experimental basis.

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