A mosquito-borne illness that instilled fear across the country in 2015, slowly made its way to the Rio Grande Valley.
The Zika virus put everyone on high alert, especially expecting mothers wanting to have a healthy baby.
To this day, there is still no cure but there soon could be a way to prevent it, as Doctors Hospital at Renaissance concluded clinical trials on a potential Zika vaccine.
“It was named after the Zika forest in Africa and that is when it was first discovered back in the ’50s. It’s been around for a long time,” said Eddie Olivarez, Health and Human Services Chief Director for Hidalgo County.
Zika was never a concern, until 2015 in Brazil, when women started giving birth to babies with smaller heads, brain development issues, feeding problems, hearing loss and much more.
“In February of 2016 we actually had our very first case that we were investigating, in the United States,” said Olivarez.
Olivarez said the case was negative, but what they learned from it would prove invaluable months later.
“In November 16, 2016, we had the first official case that happened in Cameron county, and that was the first official case here in Texas,” said Olivarez.
Zika is endemic to south Texas because the type of mosquito that carries it is native to the area.
That’s why federal researchers decided the Rio Grande Valley would be a perfect place to find out how to prevent it.
“We started talking about the Zika vaccine and the clinical trial in 2017,” said Lisa Trevino, Vice President for Research and Development at DHR Health Institute
Trevino is overseeing the Zika trials, clinical tests that would find Zika’s weakness.
“It was a needleless injection, of the DNA vaccine, for the Zika virus, and it was again to assess the safety and tolerability of this potential vaccine, for the Zika,” said Trevino.
There was a total of 50 participants, between the ages of 15 and 35.
The only requirement for them to be healthy, which Trevino says in the Rio Grande Valley it can be difficult to find.
“Our population in the Rio Grande Valley is quite unique, unique in that we have higher incidents in diseases such as diabetes, prostate cancer, liver disease right now, we are one of the areas that has the most incidents of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.”
Participants who enrolled in the trials would need to commit for two years, come in for checkups, blood draws and most importantly the vaccine injection.
“We really came across individuals, that presented with serious adverse effects, patients would mostly come in with your typical soreness at the sight of the injection. And that really was about it, we don’t have any serious adverse effects,” said Trevino.
The trials lost some participants along the way because they moved away, but retained the majority of them, and concluded the study at the start of 2020.
Do you think in the near future there will be a vaccine for Zika?
“I do, I do think, there is multiple centers across the country, across the world that are all trying to tackle the Zika virus,” said Trevino.
Though Zika cases continue to decline in the Rio Grande Valley, Olivarez says that doesn’t mean it’s gone and instead advises young couples and mothers to remain vigilant.
According to health officials, there were several babies in the Valley born with Zika.
They are currently being monitored for any developmental symptoms.