The Zika virus was identified almost 70 years ago in Africa, in Asia soon afterand since then it has spread to Oceania with outbreaks in 2007 in Micronesia, and in 2013-14 in French Polynesia. In late 2015, Brazil suffered a Zika virus outbreak, which has since spread to surrounding countries in South America, Central America and the Caribbean.

CIHR and IDRC proudly supported a rapid response initiative which assisted the global health research community in responding to the spread of the Zika virus. This initiative supported research that sought to develop new approaches to understanding virus transmission, virus diagnosis and improving vector control.

Zika Research Funding Initiatives

Team Grant: Canada-Latin America and Caribbean Zika Virus Research Program
Funding Opportunity

The Zika virus is a single-stranded positive RNA mosquito-borne virus from the Flaviviridae family and is related to other pathogenic viruses such as Dengue, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis and West Nile virus. Once transmitted to humans, most cases are asymptomatic, only a fraction of cases develop mild fever, red eyes, joint pain, headache and rash.

Of greater concern in the current epidemic is the association between Zika and microcephaly in newborn infants, which has been reported in different affected countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. Particularly, Brazil has experienced an apparent 20-fold increase in microcephaly compared to the previous year (notably in the Northeast Region of Brazil).

The maternal-fetal transmission of Zika virus has been well documented throughout pregnancy. Although Zika virus RNA has been detected in the pathologic specimens of fetal losses, it is not known whether Zika virus is the cause of miscarriage. The presence of Zika virus infections have been confirmed in infants with microcephaly. A recent review of the literature concluded that a causal relationship exists between prenatal Zika virus infection and microcephaly. However, it is not known how many of the microcephaly cases are associated with Zika virus infection; the full range of birth defects caused by congenital Zika virus infection should be investigated in future research endeavors. Basic research studies are needed to demonstrate the causative role of infection in pregnancy with Zika virus in the etiology of fetal microcephaly and to understand the Zika virus infection pathogenesis and transmission to the fetus.

In February 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Zika virus outbreak in the Americas a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. This was in large part due to a potential causal relationship between Zika virus and microcephaly, as well as other neurological disorders including Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS). Also, other neurological complications related to Zika virus infection have been reported including acute myelitis, acute disseminated encephalomyelitis and meningo-encephalitis.

The Global Research Collaboration for Infectious Disease Preparedness (GloPID-R) is an alliance which brings together research funding organizations, of which CIHR and IDRC are members, on a global scale to facilitate an effective and rapid research response against a significant outbreak of a new or re-emerging infectious disease with pandemic potential. Canada, through its membership in GloPID-R, wishes to join the international research response against Zika virus. CIHR and IDRC offered a funding opportunity that supported research on Zika virus pathogenesis, the development of improved diagnostic tests for Zika virus, the ecological transmission dynamics of Zika virus and the assessment of integrated vector control approaches. This funding opportunity is also meant to increase networking between Canada-Latin America and the Caribbean teams and other research teams supported by members of GloPID-R.

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