Newswise — CHAPEL HILL, NC – UNC Health Care and the UNC School of Medicine have launched a tool for media to request interviews with experts and researchers at the forefront of the global Zika research initiative. The UNC School of Medicine has more than 10 groups of researchers dedicated to researching Zika’s epidemiology and transmission, as well as the development of a lab test and, ultimately, a vaccine. Aravinda de Silva, PhD, has several research projects specific to Zika, including developing a vaccine, for which he has support from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). “Here at UNC-Chapel Hill, we are fortunate to have infectious disease specialists and virologists who are global leaders in the field, who are actively working to understand the biology and transmission of Zika virus,” said Blossom Damania, PhD, vice dean for research at the UNC School of Medicine. In February, the World Health Organization declared Zika an international public health emergency. Since that time, Zika has been identified in 62 countries and territories, including the United States. While most Zika cases worldwide have been transmitted by mosquitoes, no U.S. case has been attributed to mosquito transmission, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). To date, all U.S. cases involve people who contracted Zika outside the United States, or have been transmitted sexually, or from mother to infant. An estimated 75 percent of people who have contracted Zika are asymptomatic, and no lab test has been developed yet. UNC researchers are studying the neurological effects in adults, as well as associated birth defects, including microcephaly – a rare neurological condition in which an infant is born with a much smaller head as a result of abnormal brain development. UNC researchers are currently working with state and federal health officials, including the CDC and NIH. The NIH, for example, has supplemented current grants so researchers can broaden the scope of their work to expedite the research and response to Zika. With more than $251 million in NIH funding, the UNC School of Medicine ranked sixth in the country among public medical schools for NIH funding last year. Media who wish to contact a Zika expert during business hours should contact Caroline Curran at [email protected] or (984) 974-1146. Outside of business hours, call (984) 974-1140 and a member of the news team will be paged.