The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Aug. 3 announced the launch of its first clinical trial of a Zika vaccine. The trial begins as the continental U.S. confronts its first Zika virus outbreak, centered in an area north of Miami, in which 15 people have been infected by local mosquitoes.

At least 80 healthy volunteers, ages 18 to 35 years, are expected to participate in the trial at three study sites in the U.S. The NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) developed the vaccine earlier this year.

“A safe and effective vaccine to prevent Zika virus infection and the devastating birth defects it causes is a public health imperative,” said NIAID Director Anthony Fauci, M.D. 

In other Zika-related developments, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Aug. 2 awarded 40 states and territories between $200,000 and $720,000 each to enhance their information gathering to rapidly detect microcephaly and other birth defects caused by Zika virus.

The funding also will help them refer infants and families to appropriate health and social services, and monitor health and developmental outcomes of children affected by Zika, the agency said. 

CDC last month awarded $25 million in preparedness and response funding to areas at risk for outbreaks of Zika.

On Aug. 1, CDC released an updated interim plan for responding to locally acquired cases of Zika virus infection in the continental U.S. and Hawaii. l

CDC has sent an Emergency Response Team to help with the investigation of the Zika virus outbreak in the north Miami area. CDC advises pregnant women to avoid non-essential travel to the area, and issued recommendations for women of reproductive age and their partners who live in or traveled to the area after June 15.

In other news, the Department of Health and Human Services Aug. 1 announced a $5.1 million contract to develop a faster blood test for Zika virus.

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Mostpeople infected with Zika don’t show symptoms, but the virus can have devastating consequences during pregnancy. A woman infected with Zika can pass the disease to her fetus, stunting brain development and causing other severe defects.

The CDC has dispatched an emergency-response team of experts in birth defects, mosquito control and other fields to assist in combatting the outbreak. Six of the 10 new cases identified Monday were people who showed no symptoms but were identified through the local health department’s door-to-door survey.