We are pleased to announce Professor Eric Gowans, along with Dr Branka Grubor-Bauk and Dr Danushka Wijesundara at the Basil Hetzel Institute for Translational Health Research have received funding from the National Foundation for Medical Research and Innovation to examine new strategies to develop a vaccine for the dangerous Zika virus.

The History of Zika Virus

Zika virus was discovered in Uganda in 1947, and was later identified in humans in 1952.  It is a member of the flavivirus family, in which hepatitis C virus (HCV) is classified, and is transmitted by infected mosquitos.  Between the 1960s and 1980s, studies showed consistent widespread human exposure to the virus, and it moved from Uganda to western Africa and Asia.  In 2008, a US scientist contracted Zika virus, and infected his wife, and is thought to the first case of a human transmitting the disease.  By 2014, outbreaks of the disease had spread through Asia, including India and Indonesia.

This devastating virus also can effect newborns if they become exposed to the virus during pregnancy; they are born with microcephaly, a heartbreaking condition where the baby is born with a small head and brain that fails to develop after birth.

Zika Virus Today

Since that discovery, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has deemed Zika virus a public health emergency of international concern.  There is no therapy or vaccine currently licensed for this emerging virus.

Zika virus has been detected in Queensland and New South Wales, although these cases were returning overseas travellers. However, outbreaks of Dengue virus, another serious infection transmitted by the same mosquito occur occasionally and there is a significant risk that this species and other mosquito species capable of transmitting Zika and Dengue viruses may spread to other parts of the country.

The symptoms of Zika include fever, skin rashes, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain and headaches and can last from two to seven days.

If you are travelling to countries with a high risk of Zika virus, you should cover as much exposed skin as possible, use insect repellent and ensure your accommodation has screened and air-conditioned rooms.  If you become unwell during or after travelling, seek medical advice as soon as possible.

We are proud to support Professor Gowans and his team, providing them with world-class equipment and facilities at the BHI where they can potentially generate a vaccine for Zika virus and stop the spread before this virus affects more people’s lives.

Update on Professor Gowans’ research

Professor Gowans and his team are still working on developing a vaccine for this devastating virus.

“Currently we have made all the vaccines we wish to examine and we are now at the stage of characterising these before we begin a pre-clinical trial,” Professor Gowans explained.

“We will begin pre-clinical trials by the end of March and I am confident this will lead to a vaccine for the Zika virus. There are exciting developments ahead of us.”

For further information, you can visit the Department of Health website: http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/ohp-zika-factsheet-basics.htm#toc04