The Zika virus, which is spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, is strongly suspected to be linked to a new wave of microcephaly cases in Brazil. Babies born with the birth defect have smaller heads and sometimes brains that aren't fully developed, which can result in life-long developmental problems.
Zika is currently spreading through Central and South America and the Caribbean, and with the high volume of news about the virus, it's tough to stay up-to-date. Check out our full coverage, or read our daily recaps.
Here are five updates, opinions and developments to know about now:
1. A U.S. company says its Zika vaccine has shown promising results in mice
U.S. pharmaceutical company Inovio is developing a Zika virus vaccine that appears to work in mice. The synthetic vaccine produced "robust and durable immune responses” in pre-clinical trials, the company said in a statement Wednesday. Inovio will now test the vaccine in non-human primates, and are making preparations for trials in human beings by the end of 2016.
The company is one of at least 15 firms or academic groups trying to develop a vaccine for Zika virus, reports Reuters. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the federal National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said in past press conferences that he expects his agency's version of a Zika virus vaccine to start human trials by summer of 2016.
2. The FDA recommends a ban on blood donations in places with active Zika virus transmission
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration wants to put a stop to collecting blood in areas where there is active Zika virus transmission. In the U.S., those are the territories of Puerto Rico, American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands, reports Reuters. The recommended ban could also extend to a few southeastern U.S. states if they also experience small disease outbreaks as expected. Clinics will be able to continue collecting platelets and plasma in areas with active Zika virus transmission only if they use an FDA-approved pathogen-reduction device to lower the risk of passing the virus to recipients.
The FDA also recommended that people traveling from an area with active Zika virus transmission refrain from donating blood for at least four weeks, along with anyone who may have experienced symptoms or had sex with a person who may have been exposed to Zika virus. Currently, there are no reports that Zika virus has entered the U.S. blood supply.
3. The World Health Organization is trying to raise $56 million to fight Zika
About $25 million will come directly from the WHO, but the global health body says that it expects other countries and donors to contribute as well. The WHO has already deployed about $2 million in emergency funds to get work going, reports Reuters.
Global health experts criticized the move, saying that WHO doesn’t appear to have learned lessons from the Ebola crisis.
"That lesson is that mobilizing funding in the midst of a global emergency will always be too little, too late,” said public health professor Lawrence Gostin of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
WHO declared the microcephaly potentially linked to Zika virus to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on Feb. 1.
4. Microcephaly conspiracy theories are spreading like wildfire
As microcephaly cases in Brazil continue to rise, rumors and conspiracy theories about what causes the birth defect are spreading, too, according to the New York Times. Scientists, governments and health organizations all strongly suspect that there's a connection between Zika virus and microcephaly, and are working to prove that connection now. Conspiracy websites and at least one Hollywood actor, however, claim that there might be something more sinister behind the birth defect's increased prevalence.
A report by Argentinian doctors that claimed a Monsanto-produced larvicide in Brazil's drinking water was the true cause of the country's microcephaly surge was roundly debunked by HuffPost and other publications this this week, but other far-fetched theories are still being passed around. They include myriad combinations of the following: a British biotech company released genetically modified mosquitos that cause microcephaly, microcephaly is part of a plot to depopulate the Earth and create a "one-world" government, expired vaccines cause microcephaly, chicken pox and rubella vaccines cause microcephaly, and Zika is a ruse to distract Brazilian citizens from a cancer cure that the government is keeping secret.
In a country where many citizens already mistrust the government, rapidly spreading misinformation, such as the debunked larvicide report, is especially problematic.
"The effect of this [report] to cause panic in people, and to prevent an effective response to disease carrying-vectors, is a very substantial negative,” Ian Musgrave, an expert on neurotoxicology and pharmacology at the University of Adelaide previous told HuffPost. "If they wanted to control the mosquitos, what are they going to use now? Something even more toxic?"
5. A Zika case in the UK provides more evidence of sexual transmission
A new report on a United Kingdom resident who contracted Zika virus after traveling to the Pacific Islands in 2014 found that the virus stayed in the man's semen for almost nine weeks after he became ill, Live Science reported.
"Our data may indicate prolonged presence of [Zika] virus in semen, which, in turn, could indicate a prolonged potential for sexual transmission," researchers from Public Health England wrote in the report, to be published in May in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.
The countries and territories under travel alert by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are: American Samoa, Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Cape Verde, Colombia, Costa Rica, Curacao, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Martinique, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Samoa, Suriname, Tonga, Venezuela and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
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