The spread of Ebola in West Africa last year shows how poorly-understood diseases can emerge and grow rapidly while researchers race to design and conduct the scientific studies needed to combat them.
Researchers in the journal Nature Microbiology called for a bacterial infection called meliodosis, which is resistant to a wide range of antibiotics, to be given a higher priority by international health organisations and policy makers.
At the same time, scientists at Britain’s Oxford University warned that a virus known as Zika, which is carried by mosquitoes and has caused a major outbreak in Brazil, has “the potential of rapid spread to new areas”.
Zika was first detected in Africa in the 1940s and was unknown in the Americas until last year, but has now been confirmed in Brazil, Panama, Venezuela, El Salvador, Mexico, Suriname, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Guatemala and Paraguay, according to public health officials.
It is carried by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which thrives in tropical climates and can also carry other diseases such as yellow fever, dengue fever and chikungunya.
Thousands of people in Brazil have been infected by Zika. While the virus is not thought to kill, health authorities there last year linked it to a surge in babies born with microcephaly, restricted head growth that seriously limits a child’s mental and physical abilities. Trudie Lang, professor of Global Health Research at Oxford University, said Zika – for which there are currently no known treatments – was a cause for concern.
“It’s definitely becoming an issue, but there is so little research that we just don’t know the size of the potential threat,” she told Reuters. — Reuters.