UK breakthrough on zika vaccine

BRITISH scientists believe they have developed a vaccine that will tackle the zika virus by neutralising disease-laden mosquito saliva before the virus can spread around the body.

Experts at Seek, a small biotech firm in London, think the vaccine will also be effective against other mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever, and it has been put forward for a fast-track trial by the National Institutes of Health in America.

The researchers believe they are the first to produce artificial copies of proteins found in the saliva of all species of mosquito that carry the zika virus.

When these synthetic proteins are injected into humans, they prime the immune system to recognise and destroy infectious agents introduced by a mosquito bite.

It has long been thought that proteins in mosquito saliva could be used to develop a vaccine, but until now it had proved impossible to produce them in sufficient volume.

As well as preventing disease in the person who has been bitten, antibodies triggered by the vaccine would be sucked up by the mosquito, killing the insect.

With an estimated 1.5m people infected by zika, and at least 4,000 babies born in Brazil alone with underdeveloped brains, a condition thought to be caused by it, the World Health Organisation has declared the virus a global health emergency.

More than 200,000 soldiers have been deployed across Brazil to warn people about the risks of zika. The country is at the centre of an outbreak.

Zika has also been linked to an autoimmune condition called Guillain-Barré syndrome, which can be fatal.

Three deaths of adults in Brazil are suspected to be linked to the current outbreak.