Local institute researching Zika virus

Posted at 8:58 PM, Feb 03, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-04 04:46:06-05

The Zika virus is now causing a health emergency.

Two months ago most of us had never even heard of it.

Now, four Florida counties are under a public health emergency

The race for answers continues, one that is actually happening right in our back yard.

For many of us it’s a new and scary term health emergencies and a major travel concerns abroad.

But at the Scripps Research Institute in Jupiter, the Zika virus has been part of on-going research for quite some time.

"We actually understand a lot about this virus,” said Dr. Michael Farzan, a professor at Scripps.”It behaves from our point of view very much like the Dengue virus the West Nile virus, Yellow Fever virus."

The Zika virus is transmitted by a specific mosquito. While that mosquito is found in parts of Florida, it is not normally found in most other places in the United States. That's why researchers like Farzan say Zika hasn’t been on our radar until recently.

"Now, that we're alert to it and alert to the possible connections to this Microcephaly and the virus, it’s a very serious concern of course."

Microcephaly causes the birth defect doctors now say is associated with the Zika virus. It leads to skull deformities in newborn babies. What researchers don't know yet is how to prevent it.

“As a department and institute we are doing a number of things,” said Farzan. “We are trying to understand more about it, more about how the virus gets into cells then how it replicates once in cells.”

These labs normally research all kinds of viruses, but Farzan says they've shifted resources to focus specifically on Zika.

Since Zika is similar to other viruses they've studied, like West Nile, Farzan says this team is already one step ahead.

“The kind of tools that we apply to those viruses can be applied to the Zika virus as well.

The goal of this local research is to develop a vaccine and treatments for those infected, but researchers say that's probably still a few years away.