A vaccine is being given to 160 people in Puerto Rico, and a preliminary study has identified two existing drugs that seem to protect human brain cells from the virus.
The vaccine contains a synthetic DNA fragment similar to one in the virus itself. Hopefully, people who receive it will develop immune protection against Zika.
A team of researchers from the US and China identified one drug – currently in clinical trials for liver diseases – that protects brain cells from damage, and 10 others that stop Zika from replicating, one of which is an already-approved drug used to treat worm infections. A combination of two compounds could be an effective Zika treatment, say the authors, who hope to start testing in animals soon.
However, “Even if the vaccine development moves as quickly as we’d like, realistically it will be a year before we have something we can use to protect people,” says Edwin Trevathan, a pediatric neurologist at Vanderbilt University.
Doctors and scientists are warning that the effects of Zika could be worse than thought, and may not affect some babies for several years, when it could impact their brain development. “It could affect parts of the brain that don’t manifest their function until the age of 2, 4 or 6,” says Travathan. “Sadly, I suspect that many of us who take care of children will see the effects of Zika for a long time. This is a problem that may have been dramatically underestimated.”