A Christchurch drug trial may provide the breakthrough needed to contain the Zika virus.
So far in 2016, 48 people have returned to New Zealand with Zika virus. For the week to February 17, 13 people tested positive for the virus.
All of the cases were linked to people returning from overseas trips to Tonga, Samoa and American Samoa.
The outbreak has caused worldwide concern since 2015. Hundreds of Brazilian babies have been born with microcephaly – or abnormally small heads – believed to be linked to Zika.
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At the Christchurch Clinical Studies Trust (CCST), a groundbreaking flu vaccine study may hold the answer to stemming the Zika crisis.
An international pharmaceutical company has contracted the CCST to test the efficiency of a new oral influenza tablet.
The vaccine has been tested on the two strains of influenza A, and is being tested on influenza B strain.
The results were proving positive, lead investigator Chris Wynne said. If the trial proved successful, it was likely to be used to produce a Zika vaccine.
“If you can show that it works you can change the molecules to vaccinate against norovirus and other things, and now we’re looking at Zika,” Wynne said.
“A vaccine tablet has many advantages over an injection vaccine. It is likely to be more acceptable than an injection, it is easy to dispense and doesn’t require refrigeration which is a big plus in tropical countries.”
During the Ebola crisis, clinicians looked at creating an oral vaccine tablet, but the outbreak was over before it was developed, Wynne said.
Investigations into the viability of the Zika vaccine was under way, with “a lot of work being done at the pre-clinical level”.
“The company is already working on extracting the right bits from the Zika virus to use,” Wynne said.
In the week to February 19, two new cases were confirmed in Canterbury – one in Christchurch and one in Timaru. Both had returned from overseas.
More than 130 Christchurch participants had been screened to take part in the influenza study, but the trust was advertising for more.
Participants could be male or female, aged between 18 and 49, who have not had the flu vaccine in two years.
Each participant would receive the flu vaccine or a placebo and would be monitored for a year. They would receive $2000 each.
Many vaccines for tropical diseases are tested in New Zealand because there was no possibility of the study being contaminated, or participants contracting the disease naturally.
“I think we need to be exploring the limits of technology and what we can do… it’s very exciting.”