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Ohio State Researchers Finding Early Success With Zika Vaccine

Ohio state researchers may have come up with an effective Zika vaccine. Symptoms from the primarily mosquito-borne disease are often mild, but the virus can lead to birth defects when it’s contracted by pregnant mothers.

According to the World Health Organization, the threat of Zika has calmed since a 2015 epidemic in the Western Hemisphere. But without an effective vaccine the disease remains a risk.

Shan-Lu Liu, who's part of a team from Ohio State, says their focus was on a protein created within a virus-infected cell, rather than just a weakened version of the virus like many other vaccines.

“For Zika virus, it’s a little different because people have found Zika virus’ antibodies, against Zika virus, can even make the disease more severe," Liu says.

And because Zika is similar to other diseases like Dengue fever, the team - headed up by Jianrong Li - were concerned a vaccine could make those other infections worse, too.

Liu explains they’ve avoided that reaction by adding the protein, known as NS-1, which the virus normally produces inside a host cell to replicate itself. To get the proteins into the body, the research team is using a weakened version of a virus that affects cattle but has no effect on people.

The vaccine has so far proven successful in mice.

“That’s promising, but we still don’t know how protective this antibody would be in humans, so apparently the next step would be to test the antibody in humans or in some area which has Zika virus infections," Liu says.

The Centers for Disease Control put the total number of Zika cases in the U.S. at slightly more than 5,700.

Copyright 2018 WOSU 89.7 NPR News

Nick Evans