Zika Funding Uncertainty Looms

By Kristine Hartvigsen on April 3rd, 2017

A new administration in Washington, D.C., has proposed significant funding cuts to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) — to the tune of $1.2 billion this year and $5.8 billion in 2018. If enacted, the cuts likely will impede our country’s ability to fight infectious diseases, such as the Zika virus.

One little-known program under NIH, the Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity (ELC) program, is critical to the Zika fight and stands to lose $40 million in the proposed cuts. The ELC program distributes money to the states (each runs public health laboratories that monitor for infectious diseases) to be used for staff training and lab equipment.

Over the winter months, concern about the Zika virus has ebbed, but experts warn that summer is coming, and efforts to fight Zika must not fall into complacency. In fact, the risk may be even greater this year due to a warm winter that may have helped more mosquito eggs survive.

In addition, ecologists at the University of Georgia recently created a forecasting model that suggests that Zika may potentially be spread by as many as 35 species of mosquito, seven of them common to the United States. These include including Culex quinquefasciatus and Cx. Pipiens mosquitos. This research was published on February 28 in the journal eLife. Thus far, the Aedes aegypti and the Aedes albopictus have been identified as the two primary mosquito species carrying the virus in Florida and Texas.

In Other Zika News

• According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), local transmission of the Zika virus in Florida may have occurred earlier last year than originally thought, which means that some men who may have donated to area sperm banks may not have been aware that they were at risk of infection. Therefore, it is possible that some donated sperm was infected with the Zika virus.
• Scientists are working to develop several vaccines against Zika, and a few are now in small Phase I clinical trials. Ironically, vaccines that meet the Phase I safety standard must then undergo additional of testing by administering the vaccine to large numbers of people exposed to the virus. If existing prevention efforts are very successful this summer, scientists may not find large pools of needed test subjects. In total, at least six vaccines are in development in the United States, with agencies collaborating to try and accelerate the process. Ordinarily, vaccines take up to a decade to develop and bring to market.
• The FDA in December 2016 alerted physicians who care for pregnant women that the Laboratory Corporation of America (LabCorp), a commercial testing facility, has reported some false positive results from the ZIKV Detect test. It remains unclear whether the false positives were related to the ZIKV Detect test itself or the testing facility. Nonetheless, confirmatory testing is recommended.

During National Public Health Week (April 3-9), it is prudent to be aware not only of Zika infection risks and to take precautions, but also to take steps to confirm that you are up to date on all recommended vaccines.

Editor's Note:  It has just been announced that scientists have begun a Phase 2 trial of a Zika vaccine. This is the first time an experimental Zika vaccine has gone beyond initial safety testing. That trial, with more than 2,000 stubjects, is expected to conclude in 2019. We will provide more information in our next Zika Update.

This blog provides general information and discussion about healthcare-related subjects. The content and linked materials provided are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice. If the reader is an expectant mother with a medical concern, she should consult with an appropriately licensed physician or healthcare provider.

 

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