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Has a Utah State research team found a potential vaccine for Zika?

By Shanie Howard

A Utah State University researcher believes his team might have found a potential vaccination for Zika virus.

Justin Julander, an associate professor with the university’s Institute for Antiviral Research, has been working on Zika with funding from the National Institute of Health and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since December. Now, he said, he’s ready to publish some of the team’s findings.

“We’ve identified several anti-viral agents and a few vaccines that are effective in treatment and prevention of Zika,” said Julander, who plans to submit a paper about the discoveries by the end of this week.

Up to this point, these vaccinations have only been tested on mice, and would still need to undergo clinical trials before being distributed to those infected or at risk of infection.

It’s not the first time a potential vaccine has been identified. Clinical trials got underway for one possible inoculation on Tuesday in Baltimore, where clinicians at the University of Maryland injected it into 18 volunteers.

First recognized by scientists in Uganda in the late 1940s, Zika broke out in South America early last year and has caused many infants to be born with microcephaly — a usually rare neurological condition in which infants are born with abnormally small heads. The disease has since spread to the southern United States.

Even with the discovery of these potential vaccines, Julander and the other scientists on his team are hesitant to speak of an end to Zika. They are concerned the virus may hold other undiscovered dangers.

“With Zika, we still really don’t know much about it,” said Skot Neilson, the team’s lab supervisor.

Once the paper is submitted, Julander plans to request a grant that will allow him to look into some of the long-term effects the Zika virus might have, including the possibility of it being transmitted to another person through intercourse.

Until more can be discovered about the virus Julander has some simple advice for the public:

“If you go to areas where Zika is found make sure you wear your mosquito repellant,” he said. “It’s not something to be scared of — just be aware and educated, and take the proper steps to keep yourself safe.”