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Scientists Look to Amend Brazilian Law to Fight Zika Virus

Scientists Look to Amend Brazilian Law to Fight Zika Virus

The Zika virus outbreak has Brazilian public health officials frantically searching for ways to fight the mosquito-borne infection. Homes and businesses are being sprayed with insecticide, while residents are being told to remove standing water where mosquitos can breed. But one of the more promising options to fight the virus might be Brazilian law, or rather, a change in the law.

Brazil’s 2005 biosecurity law restricts the country’s ability to send biological samples abroad, samples that could potentially be used to develop a vaccine or antiviral drug for Zika. Reuters reports that Brazilian scientists are now calling on lawmakers to amend the law so that they and their colleagues around the world can move forward with their Zika research.

Much of the biosecurity law concerns genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The law created Brazil’s National Biosafety Council and also established a biosafety policy for the country. Among the law’s provisions is a restriction on the movement of biological samples. It is this restriction that is slowing down the effort to fight the Zika virus.

Health researchers across the world have been trying to obtain Zika virus samples. Yet many of these researchers have become frustrated with Brazil’s refusal to share the biological samples needed to research the disease, the Associated Press reports. Researching Zika is not a simple matter of testing a few samples. Rather, scientists need to study thousands of samples to track the virus’ evolution. That information can, in turn, contribute to the development of diagnostics to test for the disease, vaccines to prevent it and drugs to treat it.

Lacking samples from Brazil, laboratories in other countries have thus far based their Zika research on older strains of the virus from outbreaks in the Pacific and Africa. However, the biological differences of those samples may limit their value in applications to the Brazilian strain of the virus. Scientists told the AP that having access to current Zika samples is important for determining whether the virus is mutating into a form that is more dangerous or more easily transmitted between people.

When lawmakers draft and debate legislation, it is not possible to envision the implications of every provision of a new law. Lawmakers who considered the country’s biosecurity law in 2005 likely did not anticipate its impact on Zika virus research. According to the AP, Brazilian officials are now saying that they are weighing whether to amend the law. Changes could also come in the form of a presidential decree.

In the meantime, it appears that scientific endeavors are moving ahead of legislative changes. Brazil’s health ministry told the AP that biological samples have already been sent to the United States for study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.