Experts on the Zika virus outbreak have agreed on three top priorities for research into medical products, the World Health Organization (WHO) has reported. The WHO warned, however, that vaccine trials may come too late for the current outbreak.
The top research priorities are: 1) tests for other viruses, such as dengue and chikungunya, as well as for Zika; 2) protective vaccines based on non-live viruses for women of child-bearing age; and 3) innovative tools for tackling the mosquitoes that spread the disease.
In related news, an emergency committee convened by the WHO’s director-general provided the following advice with regard to the link between Zika virus infection and microcephaly in infants and Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) in adults:
· Research into the relationship between new clusters of microcephaly, other neurological disorders (including GBS), and Zika virus should be intensified.
· Particular attention should be given to generating additional data on the genetic sequences and clinical effect of different Zika virus strains, to studying the neuropathology of microcephaly, to conducting additional case-control and cohort studies in other and more recently infected settings, and to developing animal models for experimental studies.
· Research on the natural history of Zika virus infection should be expedited, including the rates of asymptomatic infection; the implications of asymptomatic infection, particularly with respect to pregnancy; and the persistence of virus excretion.
· Retrospective and prospective studies of the rates of microcephaly and other neurological disorders should be conducted in other areas known to have had Zika virus transmission but where such clusters were not observed.
· Research should continue to explore the possibility of other causative factors or co-factors for the observed clusters of microcephaly and other neurological disorders.
The emergency committee also recommended the following actions:
· Pregnant women who have been exposed to Zika virus should be counselled and followed for birth outcomes based on the best available information and national practice and policies.
· In areas of known Zika virus transmission, health services should be prepared for potential increases in neurological syndromes and/or congenital malformations.
· There should be no general restrictions on travel or trade with countries, areas, and/or territories with Zika virus transmission.
· Pregnant women should be advised not to travel to areas of ongoing Zika virus outbreaks; pregnant women whose sexual partners live in or travel to areas with Zika virus outbreaks should ensure safe sexual practices or abstain from sex for the duration of their pregnancy.
· Travelers to areas with Zika virus outbreaks should be provided with up-to-date advice on potential risks and appropriate measures to reduce the possibility of exposure to mosquito bites and, upon return, should take appropriate measures, including safe sex, to reduce the risk of transmission.
· Research and development efforts should be intensified for Zika virus vaccines and therapeutics in the medium term.