Latin America & Caribbean

Zika virus: Brazil hopes to develop vaccine in 'one year'

Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes, which transmit dengue fever and Zika virus, are pictured in a laboratory Image copyright EPA
Image caption Zika virus is transmitted by Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes

Health officials in Brazil say they expect to develop a vaccine for the Zika virus in about a year.

But two more years would be needed for any large-scale rollout, the health minister said.

Brazil is at the centre of an outbreak of the virus that has been linked to a surge of brain malformations in newborn babies.

Separately, officials have said the death of a third adult in the country had possible links to Zika.

Brazil's race to find a vaccine

Read more about the Zika virus

Health minister Marcelo Castro announced that Brazil would invest $1.9m (£1.3m) in research for the vaccine over the next five years, in partnership with scientists at the University of Texas.

Researchers have agreed that the testing of the vaccine would happen simultaneously in mice and monkeys, and not separately, to speed up the process, he said.

A vaccine could be ready for distribution within three years, Mr Castro added.

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global public health emergency over the possible connection between Zika and microcephaly, a condition marked by abnormally small heads in newborn babies that can result in developmental problems.

The link with Zika has not been confirmed, but the WHO and other public health bodies have said it is strongly suspected.

Brazil has seen more than 4,000 suspected cases of microcephaly since October - a huge surge considering it had fewer than 150 cases in the whole of 2014.

Officials there believe as many as 1.5m people could be infected by Zika.

Brazil has also announced a partnership with the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention for studies about the possible relation between the virus and the condition.

The microcephaly cases have been centred in north-east Brazil, but the Zika outbreak has affected people in more than 20 countries in the Americas.

Some governments have advised women to delay getting pregnant. Already-pregnant women have been advised not to travel to the countries affected.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Researchers believe there is a link between the Zika virus and a surge of microcephaly in newborn babies

Third adult death

Brazilian researchers found the virus in the body of a 20-year-old woman who died last April from respiratory problems in the north-eastern state of Rio Grande do Norte, the health minister said.

Two other patients last year also died from complications while they were infected with the virus, before the outbreak had been discovered.

"We are still studying this in greater detail," Mr Castro said at a press conference.

WHO director general, Margaret Chan, is expected to visit Brazil on 23 February, he said.

More on the Zika crisis:

Microcephaly Why it is not the end of the world

What you need to know Key questions answered about the virus and its spread

Travel advice Countries affected and what you should do

The mosquito behind spread of virus What we know about the insect

Abortion dilemma Laws and practices in Catholic Latin America