Vaccine for Zika virus being worked on at Vanderbilt University

Zika vaccine at Vanderbilt_256305

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Two major announcements came Tuesday regarding the rapidly-spreading Zika virus in the Americas.

The Centers for Disease control announced it is at its highest level of activation, and President Barack Obama will ask Congress for nearly $2 billion to prevent it’s spread.

There have been 35 reported cases of Zika in the United States, all of them associated with travel to other countries, in Hawaii, California, Minnesota, Texas, Illinois, Arkansas, Georgia, Florida, Virginia, Washington DC, New Jersey and Massachusetts.

As the virus becomes a global health concern, doctors at Vanderbilt University Medical Center are at work in the lab.

“We are doing research here at Vanderbilt to develop a treatment, which is an antibody treatment derived from survivors and their blood cells,” the Director of Vanderbilt’s Vaccine Center, James Crowe, told News 2.

Zika has been around for decades but made headline recently when thousands of babies in Brazil were born with unusually small heads, an incurable condition called microcephaly.

“Which is a really debilitating condition. Of course this would be mostly a concern for pregnant women being infected,” Crowe said.MORE: Further coverage of the Zika virus

And pregnant women have been advised not to travel to affected countries, but there’s a new risk.

The virus can be spread through sexual contact, too.

“This increases the concern of exposure, not just to mosquitos but also to other people through sex,” Crowe explained.

Central and South America are popular travel destinations, especially during Carnival, which started last week.

Throughout the year, local churches also send missionaries overseas. Pastor Maury Davis of Cornerstone Church in Madison just returned from Columbia, an affected country, where he was working with a local church.

“I found out about it while I was there, so I did a little research and initially discovered it was more serious for pregnant women,” Pastor Davis said.

Davis says the travel alerts won’t affect his church’s plans.

“Regardless of whether it’s an airborne virus, terrorism, government regulations of some closed country, there’s always challenges to share the message we have,” he told News 2.

Back at Vanderbilt, scientists say most people who are infected might not even know it.

They also might have symptoms similar to the flu.

“Only one in five people who are bitten by mosquitos and infected show any symptoms at all,” Crowe explained. “Those who do [have symptoms] usually have a fever first and then a rash on the skin.”

Those typical symptoms last about a week before they’re gone.

If you’re considering travel to an affected area, look at travel health insurance. Pack a travel health kid and monitor warnings and alerts from the CDC and U.S. Department of State.

To read more about the Zika virus, visit the Centers for Disease Control.

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