A virus expert from the Queen Mary’s School of Medicine and Dentistry in the U.K. recently said that the scariest virus out there at the moment is not more dangerous than a common flu strain.
Prof. John Oxford explained that while flu strains often mutate and render vaccines useless, Zika virus hardly changes.
In recent months, Zika has caused international panic as the exotic virus was blamed for thousands of babies born with abnormally small heads and brain injuries. So far, Brazilian health authorities reported more than 4,000 babies affected by Zika.
Additionally, new cases were reported in Europe, with four cases in the U.K. and one case of sexually transmitted Zika infection in France. But while the news on Zika may be one serious reason of concern, Dr. Oxford recently wrote in a blog post at The Hippocratic Post that the virus has rarely morphed over the last half century.
He underscored that flu strains mutate so fast that vaccine makers and researchers are always left one step behind. This is why, the professor is confident that a vaccine to eradicate Zika could be ready by the end of the year, but a vaccine to eradicate flu remains an impossibility.
In February, world’s scientists get together at World Health Organisation’s HQ in Geneva to discuss the most devastating flu strains for the incoming flu season. Researchers base their assumptions on data gathered from the previous flu season in the southern hemisphere. This is how they take a guess at how the new flu viruses would affect populations in the northern hemisphere.
Next, new flu vaccines are developed, and scientists hope and pray that the strains do not mutate by October or November when the next flu season starts for those in northern latitudes. But often flu morphs into something new rendering vaccines as effective as a placebo.
By contrast, Zika rarely changes. Some virologists believe that the virus in fact has never changed. It only escaped from Africa and flourished in the new countries it recently affected. Plus, Zika has spread so fast because of the densely populated urban areas and poor sanitation.
In some cities people collect rain water for personal use, which makes cities the perfect breeding ground for Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which are the main carriers of Zika.
Several pharmaceutical companies including U.K.-based GlaxoSmithKline are currently working on a vaccine against Zika. Dr. Gary Kobinger of the GlaxoSmithKline said that human trials could start in August, so the vaccine could be ready this fall.
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