Amid fears brought about by rising incidences of birth defects in the country, the Brazilian government announced that it will provide funding for a biomedical research center to develop a vaccine against Zika virus.

Zika is known to cause a potentially fatal neurological condition in newborns whose mothers were infected by the virus during pregnancy. The rare condition called microcephaly is characterized by being born with a smaller than normal head and improperly developed brain.

Brazil already urged couples to postpone pregnancy because of the rampant cases of the mosquito-borne virus and the increasing incidences of microcephaly in the country.

Figures from the Health Ministry reveal that since October last year, more than 3,500 babies in the country were born with microcephaly, a notable rise from 150 cases in 2014.

Most cases are concentrated in the poor regions in the northeast of Brazil, albeit big cities such as Rio de Janeiro also see a spike in number. People have been stocking up on mosquito repellent and some women with the means to are leaving the country to spend their pregnancy in Europe or the U.S. to avoid infection.

On Friday, Heath Minister Marcelo Castro said that the goal is for the Butantan Institute to develop the vaccine for Zika in "record time." Jorge Kalil, director of the Sao Paulo-based institute said that development of the vaccine will likely take between three to five years.

No vaccine or medication is currently available to provide protection or treatment for Zika infections. Among the best means of preventing infection at the moment is to avoid mosquito bites by using protective clothing and mosquito repellent as well as by staying in screened rooms and homes.

"The final victory against the virus will only come when we develop a vaccine against that disease," Castro said.

Brazil is currently experiencing the largest known outbreak of the virus. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention already issued a travel alert on Friday urging pregnant women to avoid going to Brazil and 13 other countries that have seen Zika outbreaks.

The first case of microcephaly linked to Zika virus in the U.S. is that of a baby born in a hospital in Hawaii.

Photo: Nicola Sapiens De Mitri | Flickr

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