The Zika virus could soon be under special scrutiny at the Food and Drug Administration.
The virus is spread by mosquitos and is linked to babies being born with undeveloped brains and abnormally small heads.
U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks, R-Indiana, partnered with U.S. Rep. G. K. Butterfield, D-North Carolina, to introduce bipartisan legislation that would include the Zika virus in the Tropical Disease Priority Review Voucher Program. The program is designed to motivate researchers and manufacturers to develop treatments, such as vaccines and cures, for neglected tropical diseases.
“Work is already underway to create a vaccine, but without a Priority Review Voucher in place, a vaccine may not be available for years,” said Brooks. “We do not have the luxury of time, and I strongly urge my colleagues to join this effort and encourage the rapid development of a vaccine or treatment for this disease.”
The virus, which the World Health Organization is calling a “global public health emergency,” can infect pregnant women and cause birth defects. In addition, the virus is known to cause skin rashes, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, and headaches in adults.
“Zika virus is an emerging public health crisis that demands an immediate and urgent response,” Butterfield said in a statement. “Zika has spread from Asia and Africa to the Caribbean, South and Central America, and now has appeared in Mexico and Puerto Rico. There should be an intensive effort to develop and approve a treatment for Zika or prevent it entirely.”
Brazil reported its first case of Zika virus in 2015. Since then, the disease has reportedly spread throughout Brazil and 28 other countries and territories in the region. Brooks said the U.S. must act to ensure the country is protected from an outbreak, but she believes the country is unprepared to meet the challenges of an epidemic.
“In this case, we need to do everything we can to make sure that we eliminate any roadblocks to the development, testing and ultimate distribution of a vaccine or therapy for Zika virus,” Brooks said in a press release.
She said part of the solution is providing an incentive for researches and manufacturers to create and test new vaccines and treatments before an outbreak or epidemic occurs.