Photo by Karin Zeitvogel for Fogarty
Dr. Tony Fauci provides an update on Zika at NIH on
March 18, 2016.
The global health community must remain vigilant against serious health threats even after the mosquito-borne Zika virus, which is suspected of causing severe birth defects, is brought under control, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) told a recent gathering at NIH.
"This is a perpetual challenge, which we absolutely have to be prepared for because it will come again," Dr. Tony Fauci told several hundred people who attended a talk on Zika at NIH in March.
Phase one trials of potential Zika vaccines are expected to begin by September this year, Fauci said. But he cautioned that the timeline from trials to roll-out of a vaccine is measured in years, not months.
The world mobilized to fight Zika after what Fauci called an "explosion" of births last year of microcephalic babies in northeastern Brazil, the epicenter of the outbreak. Global health authorities have been hesitant to pin the surge in microcephalic births in Brazil on Zika before ruling out other known causes of the birth defect including fetal alcohol syndrome, malnutrition, and infections such as toxoplasmosis and rubella, Fauci noted.
But with several small cohort studies indicating a strong link between Zika and microcephaly, and Zika case control studies underway at several NIH centers including the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), Fauci said he is confident that any question that Zika causes microcephaly will be removed soon.
Fauci also noted that recent reports have linked Zika to other defects in infants besides microcephaly, including eye disorders and arthrogryposis, or joint contractures. He cautioned that, because Zika can be transmitted during sexual intercourse and can infect a woman at any point during pregnancy, men who have traveled to areas with Zika should use a condom or abstain from sex with a woman throughout her pregnancy.