Billions needed to combat Zika virus, possible vaccine by September

The National Institutes of Health is “very aggressively pursuing” a potential vaccine to combat the Zika virus and hopes to have an early safety study of a vaccine by September 2016, said National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony Fauci, MD.

Fauci spoke with Yahoo guest anchor Debbye Turner Bell on Friday about the importance of President Obama’s outstanding request for $1.9 billion to combat the disease.

According to the CDC, there are currently 618 travel-associated cases of Zika in the continental U.S. and Hawaii. There are 162 confirmed cases of the virus in Florida, and 38 infected pregnant women in that state alone.

Without federally funded aid, Florida will face in impending Zika “disaster,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott warned.

The funding would be appropriated to several public health groups to combat the disease.

The NIH requires funding for basic and clinical research, such as understanding the virus’s implications for pregnancy and microcephaly in the fetus, Fauci said.

Fauci also said the NIH is actively pursuing the development of a vaccine for the virus, which they hope to be able to test by September 2016.

According to Fauci, women are the most susceptible to the infection in their first trimester, as they may not be aware of their pregnancy in its early stages. For that reason, the NIH proposes that all women of childbearing age are vaccinated prior to becoming pregnant.

The CDC would receive funds for surveillance, infection control, public health initiatives and mosquito control. He added that the CDC has sent employees to Brazil and Puerto Rico, among other South American countries where the virus is rampant, to assist in combatting it, Fauci said.

The extent to which the virus has spread in Brazil has caused many to speculate about the safety of the Olympic games, as they will be held in Rio de Janeiro this August.

U.S. Olympic cyclist Tejay Van Garderen withdrew from the Olympics on Thursday so as to avoid causing any complications to his wife’s pregnancy.

Fauci, however, does not advise athletes to pull out of the Olympics or canceling the games altogether. Instead, he recommends reading the CDC’s guidelines to prevent infection and sexual transmission of the virus.

“If you are pregnant or might be pregnant, you definitely should avoid going to an area where there is a Zika outbreak, including Brazil,” he added.

Zika, like Chikungunya and Dengue, is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito.

Zika, however, can be sexually transmitted and has been linked to complications with pregnancies and severe fetal neurological defects, including microcephaly.

An infected man can transfer the disease to a woman via unprotected sex or oral sex. There is no evidence that it has been transferred from a woman to man.

Fauci urged men to refrain from unprotected sex if they believe they have been infected for six months and to use a condom. He also said that a man must use a condom while having sex with a pregnant woman for the duration of her pregnancy.

If you have traveled to a country where Zika infection is prevalent but have remained asymptomatic, Fauci advises using a condom during sex for eight weeks.

See the full interview.