Zeroing in on Zika

By University of Miami, Special for  USDR

Mosquito-borne transmission of the Zika virus appeared inSouth Florida just recently, but at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, forward-thinking researchers and clinicians had begun preparing for its arrival a year  ago.

That’s when David Watkins, Ph.D., vice chair for research in the Department of Pathology who researches diseases in Latin America where the infections were reaching epidemic proportions, first sounded the alarm about the potential consequences in South  Florida.

He was correct to be concerned: There are now 42 confirmed locally acquired infections; and the first one in Pinellas County, on Florida’s west coast, was just  confirmed.

As a result, UHealth physicians are already busy counseling prospective parents and treating pregnant women, and UM scientists are working overtime to bring diagnostic and therapeutic responses from the laboratory to the clinic — some possibly by the end of this  year.

One of them is Mario Stevenson (View full interview with Dr. Stevenson here), Ph.D., professor of medicine, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and director of the Institute of AIDS and Emerging Infectious Diseases, whose laboratory has developed a diagnostic blood test for Zika that costs a fraction of current tests, delivers results quickly, and can be performed on the spot in any hospital or outpatient  clinic.

Stevenson’s extremely sensitive test, which can detect the DNA of the Zika virus at the earliest stage of infection, would cost about one-tenth of current tests, with results ready in an hour. An investor is already waiting to market the test, and the only remaining hurdle is the application for FDA  approval.

In UM’s clinics, where UHealth physicians are on the front lines in the fight against Zika, obstetricians and gynecologists have been caring for pregnant women who were infected with Zika both abroad and at  home.

“We are beginning a wrap-around neonatal and pediatric care clinic for women who have been infected with Zika during their pregnancies to ensure that during pregnancy and after delivery mothers and infants receive the care that they need,” saidChristine L. Curry (View full interview with Dr. Curry here), M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of obstetrics and  gynecology.

“They’ve heard about it on the news and are asking what they can do to prevent Zika infection, either during pregnancy or before pregnancy,” she  said.

SOURCE University of  Miami

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