January 26, 2016

Speed up research into Zika virus, Obama urges

U.S. work on vaccine has started, but expected to take years

President Barack Obama is calling for speeding up research to diagnose, prevent and treat Zika virus.

Obama met with public health and national security officials about the mosquito-borne virus on Tuesday in the Situation Room. The White House says Obama was briefed on steps being taken to protect Americans and factors that could cause the virus to spread in the United States. Officials also updated the president on how the virus' spread in the hemisphere could affect the economy and development.

Leaders from the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Health and Human Services Department took part in the meeting.

The White House says Obama told the officials that all Americans should have information about the virus and how to protect themselves from infection.

Health officials suspect Zika is linked to a wave of birth defects in Brazil in which babies have small heads. U.S. officials have recommended pregnant women consider postponing trips to areas in the Caribbean and South America affected by Zika virus disease outbreaks.

Earlier Tuesday, health officials announced that a Virginia resident who traveled outside the United States has tested positive for Zika.

Health Commissioner Dr. Marissa Levine says the resident traveled to a country where the Zika virus transmission is ongoing. She says this person poses no risk to other residents, because it is not mosquito season in Virginia.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government is beginning research into a possible vaccine for virus, but don't expect protection anytime soon — vaccine development typically takes years.

Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health said in an interview Tuesday: "This is not going to be overnight."

But there are vaccines in various stages of development for other viruses in the same family — dengue, West Nile and chikungunya — that offer a pattern for creating something similar against Zika, said Fauci, who directs NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.