Four new cases of the Zika virus were reported in Florida this week, bringing the total number of cases in the state to 66.

 

To help prevent the disease from spreading further, late Thursday night the U.S. Senate approved a bill sponsored by Sen. Bill Nelson and others to speed development of vaccines and treatments for the disease.

 

“We need to figure out a way to stop the spread of this virus sooner rather than later,” Nelson said. “This bill creates an incentive for drug makers to develop a vaccine as quickly as possible.”

 

The legislation, if approved, would add the Zika virus to the Food and Drug Administration’s Tropical Disease Priority Review Voucher Program. When a company develops an FDA-approved treatment for one of the diseases on the priority list, it receives a voucher to fast-track the approval process for another drug of its choice. Adding the Zika virus to FDA’s priority list creates an incentive for drug makers to accelerate their search for a cure.

 

Nelson is also calling on President Barack Obama to appoint a “Zika czar” to coordinate the federal government’s response to the virus. The spread of Zika, a rare tropical disease that has now become an epidemic in Latin America and the Caribbean,  is seen by some medical professionals as being as challenging as the AIDS crisis of the 1980s. The mosquito-borne virus typically causes a mild illness, but is also now suspected in unusual birth defects and other health problems.

 

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