May 29, 2017

Research Roundup: Underestimating Zika & Chagas and hopes for the Ebola vaccine in the DRC

Program Assistant
PATH/Patrick McKern

In this regular feature on Breakthroughs, we highlight some of the most interesting reads in global health research from the past week.

A recent Congressional hearing on Zika has revealed that there is a lack of consensus regarding the diagnosis and treatment of the virus. Furthermore, only approximately 25 percent of babies born from women who have been exposed to Zika receive the necessary follow-up to evaluate their children for developmental defects. Such follow-up is critical—Zika can cause defects in the infant months after birth. As a result, the impact of Zika may be underestimated, leaving public health professionals uneasy about proposed budget cuts by the Trump Administration, which could exacerbate the treatment and reporting challenges that characterize the current outbreak.

Chagas disease, colloquially known as "kissing bug disease," is more deadly than previously thought due to underreporting of the disease. Going undiagnosed while carrying Chagas can elevate the risk of death, primarily due to associated heart problems that will develop over time. Chagas disease initially mimics symptoms of the flu, often causing a misdiagnosis and lack of proper treatment, and it can lie symptomatically dormant for years, silently causing irreparable damage to the heart. There is currently no effective vaccine against the disease.

Under the Microscope: The Ebola virus (Photo: CDC/Frederick A. Murphy)

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) Ministry of Health has approved the use of an experimental Ebola vaccine to combat the outbreak. The vaccine, though experimental, proved to be highly effective in clinical trials. Details of how the vaccine will be deployed have not been announced yet, but if further cases are confirmed, it will likely be given to contacts and contacts of contacts of those with a confirmed case. So far, there have only been two confirmed cases, but over fifty suspected cases.