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US and Brazil to collaborate for vaccine against Zika virus

The US and Brazil have pledged a joint effort to battle the Zika virus outbreak and find a vaccine. The virus has been linked to birth defects and is spreading through the Americas.

Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff (photo) has repeated her call for a national eradication effort against the Zika virus. There is no treatment for Zika infection and efforts are focusing on eradicating the mosquitoes which carry it.

"We do not have a vaccine for Zika yet. The only thing we can do is fight the mosquito," Rousseff said on Friday. Some 220,000 soldiers have been mobilized in Brazil to help eradicate the mosquitoes that transmit it: "We are going to win this war. We are going to show that the Brazilian people are capable of winning this war," she said.

The mosquito-borne Zika virus has been detected in 23 countries and territories in the Americas - including in Canada, which has reported four cases of people recently returned from trips abroad.

The race is on to find a vaccine for the virus which scientists suspect is linked to children being born with abnormally small heads, brain defects and impaired vision.

Rousseff and US President Barack Obama spoke on the telephone on Friday and agreed to cooperate on finding a vaccine and controlling the virus: "The leaders agreed on the importance of collaborative efforts to deepen our knowledge, advance research and accelerate work to develop better vaccines and other technologies to control the virus," according to a statement from the US White House.

More than 30 people in the US have been infected with the virus after travel to countries where Zika has been detected.

Vaccines

Tests for the development of a vaccine are to begin next week at Brazil's Butantan Institute, one of the country's leading biomedical research centers in Sao Paolo. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has activated an emergency operations center, which is staffed around the clock.

Vaccine developers including Inovio Pharmaceuticals and Hawaii Biotech Inc. have admitted that a vaccine could take months, if not years, to produce.

Olympic Games

With 3,700 suspected and confirmed cases, Brazil is one of the worst-affected countries. In August it hosts the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. The

International Olympic Committee

assured teams on Friday the Olympics would be safe from Zika but urged visitors to carefully protect themselves.

Authorities in Rio de Janeiro are to increase their mosquito control measures for the Olympics, but they have been accused of doing too little, too late. Gubio Soares, a virologist at the Federal University of Bahia who was the first to isolate the Zika virus in Brazil last April, said: "The Brazilian government has not fought the mosquito population. That is Brazil's great sin."

Soares added: "I don't think (Zika) will threaten the Games, but it will be a source of transmission."

The UN's World Health Organization suggested last week that Zika was spreading "explosively" through the Americas,

predicting up to four million cases.

The WHO holds an emergency meeting on Monday to help determine its response to the spread of the virus.

jm/bw (Reuters, AFP)

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