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In Texas, a race to find a vaccine for Zika

There are now at least 93 travel-related Zika cases in the U.S.
Texas lab working with Brazil to find Zika vaccine 03:36

In Galveston, Texas, one lab is working with the Brazilian government to find a vaccine for the Zika virus. Scientists there have studied the virus for decades and were among the first to warn of the potential dangers of Zika back in 2009, reports CBS News correspondent Omar Villafranca.

Dr. Robert Tesh of the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston has known about the Zika virus since the 1960s.

"I guess until the virus really got to Brazil and there were a lot of cases, nobody really was interested in Zika," Tesh said. "Times have changed and now we realize how much we don't know."

In the last year, research has ramped up due to an explosion of outbreaks in Central and South America. At least 93 travel-related Zika cases are now documented in the U.S., in 22 states and Washington, D.C.

Tesh said scientists have learned more about Zika in the last two months than they have in almost 70 years.

"A year ago, how many people were calling and asking for Zika samples?" Villafranca asked.

"Never," Tesh said.

Zika may be linked to the birth defect microcephaly. The condition is marked by abnormally small heads in babies due to stunted brain growth.

Brazil is ground zero in the fight against Zika, where Dr. Shannan Rossi recently traveled and saw firsthand the devastating effects of the virus.

"I don't always think about the human toll, not when I'm so wrapped up in my own little microcosm on the bench. And so to take time out and to really see what's going on with the humans, the mothers, the children, the entire families that are affected by this are absolutely -- it's heartbreaking and it's critical, I think," Rossi said.

The University of Texas Medical Branch is home to one of the world's largest collection of viruses -- nearly 7,000 samples are stored at the facility. With the focus now on Zika, Rossi and a team of scientists are working on a quick test to detect the virus in humans and eventually develop a vaccine.

"Every single day that people like me and my fellow colleagues are on the bench, we're one step closer to the vaccine," Rossi said.

In 2009, scientist Scott Weaver warned Zika, among other mosquito-borne viruses, could make its way to the U.S. Today, he said finding a solution is going to take time and research money.

"We need to develop better and faster ways to develop products like vaccines," Weaver said. "And we've gotta try to get ahead of these viruses."

The National Institutes of Health said there could be a Zika vaccine by the end of 2017. Infectious disease doctors are always keeping an eye out for the next disease that could cause an epidemic. They said it's difficult to get the funding to study them until they start causing human diseases. Scientists we spoke to say the flu bug, which kills thousands of Americans a year, is still on the top of their list.

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