Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced $25 million in funding to help protect Americans from the Zika virus. Concerns about Zika and its potential for contributing to microcephaly (an infant born with a smaller than normal brain and significant related disabilities) in newborns and guillaine barre (a neurologic disease or disease of the nerves that can cause paralysis) in adults continue to dominate the lay press.
It’s unknown at this time what impact or risk Zika could have on donation and transplantation. Certainly a donor’s travel history, epidemiologic risk factors and recent symptoms should be considered, and the transplant community needs to be aware.
To date, there have been approximately 755 travel-related cases of Zika infection in the U.S. As of this writing, however, there has been no mosquito-borne infection. This should be contrasted with at least 1,500 cases of microcephaly in newborns felt to be related to Zika in Brazil.
The best hope for control and ultimate eradication of the virus likely depends on the development of a vaccine. Toward that end, one and possibly two phase I trials (each with less than 100 patients enrolled) are set to start this fall to determine the safety of recently developed Zika vaccines. If these trials are successful, it is likely that phase II trials will start early next year with an expanded number of participants. Large-scale use of an effective vaccine though is still likely many months away.
At present, then, avoidance of Zika-endemic areas and close (sexual) contact with an individual who recently traveled to such an area is the only effective way to ensure that one remains free of this infection.
-Written by Dr. Tim E. Taber, medical director, Indiana Donor Network
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