There is still no specific treatment or vaccine for the Zika virus infection, but a new drug being developed by North Carolina-based company BioCryst Pharmaceuticals, Inc. is yielding promising results.

In a new preclinical study, a dose of the company's antiviral drug BCX4430 improved the survival rates of mice that were infected with Zika.

Two doses of BCX4430 were tested against an oral antiviral called ribavarin and a placebo to figure out their effect on the survival of immune-deficient mice.

Seven out of the eight mice that were given the standard dose of BCX4430 survived. None of the mice that received a low dose of ribavarin or a placebo lived after 28 days.

BCX4430 is an inhibitor that has been found to be effective against more than RNA viruses in nine different families: togaviruses, coronaviruses, filoviruses, bunyaviruses, paramyxoviruses, arenaviruses and flaviviruses. The Zika virus is a flavivirus.

The study was conducted by researchers from Utah State University under a program by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (Niaid).

The drug's development is being funded by the United States Health and Human Services' Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (Barda) unit. The findings of the preclinical study will be presented at a World Health Organization (WHO) meeting in Geneva, Switzerland this week.

The Zika virus was first detected in Uganda nearly 70 years ago, but an outbreak in Latin America made headlines in 2015. The mosquito-borne virus, which is transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, has been linked to a surge in cases of microcephaly in Brazil.

In January, the Brazilian government announced that it would be funding biomedical research focused on developing a Zika virus vaccine. The country also advised women to hold off on plans of getting pregnant because of the threat of infection.

Meanwhile, previous research suggests that, aside from the A. aegypti, another mosquito species may possibly be a carrier of the Zika virus. The species, which is known as Culex quinquefasciatus, may potentially transmit the virus through biting, researchers said.

"We saw an ease of infection and an ease of dissemination of the virus to the salivary glands," said Constancia Ayres, lead author of the study.

Culex mosquitoes favor bird blood, but some of its species bite humans as well. Scientists have yet to confirm if Culex mosquitoes in the wild are already carrying the virus.

Photo: Agência Brasília | Flickr

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