Safe Travels for Zika and Other Dangerous SamplesPosted on by
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As Zika virus spreads across the globe, scientists in the United States are finding ways to fight it. Currently, there are no vaccines to prevent Zika or medicines for treatment. To create better tests – including rapid tests – and develop vaccines, scientists need to conduct research with the virus in their labs.
CDC manages the permit process for researchers to bring samples of Zika virus safely from other countries into the U.S. for studies, paving the way for lifesaving discoveries.
“Samples come from all over the world,” says LCDR Meredith Pyle, a CDC microbiologist. “While so far, most samples have come from Brazil and Colombia, we have received samples from countries ranging from India to South Korea to Switzerland to Zambia.”
Sending a virus sample from one place to another has to be done safely and securely. Samples of Zika virus can be brought into the U.S. in a variety of forms, including in a tube of blood (plasma or serum), a spot of dried blood, an isolate of the virus itself that has been separated from the blood, or even a live mosquito.
How researchers get a permit
Most permit requests come from laboratories at academic and private institutions. Permits are requested through the Import Permit Program (IPP), which is managed by CDC’s Division of Select Agents and Toxins (DSAT). The program makes sure infectious germs, like Zika virus, as well as other materials that could cause disease in people will be handled appropriately after they arrive in the U.S.
“IPP helps to ensure biological agents imported into the US that could cause disease in people are tracked,” said Dr. Dan Sosin, acting director of DSAT. “We also take steps to ensure that the facilities receiving these permits have appropriate biosafety measures in place to work with the materials.”
When a researcher or institution submits an application to get an import permit for Zika virus, CDC reviews the application to make sure the facility has the appropriate biosafety measures in place to prevent the virus from accidentally being released. The program goal is to approve all Zika virus import permit applications within 24 hours for known, appropriate facilities. DSAT may also conduct an in-person inspection before issuing a permit.
Since last year, the number of permits issued for Zika virus has increased by more than eightfold. As of August 1, 2016, the program had expedited the approval of 137 Zika virus import permits this year alone.
Get more information on the Import Permit Program.