IVI in the Media
“Probability of Zika virus spreading immediately in Korea very low”
Dr. In-Kyu Yoon on Yonhap News about Zika
IVI’s Dr. In-Kyu Yoon, Deputy Director General of Science and Director of the Dengue Vaccine Initiative, sat down with a reporter from Yonhap News to answer questions about Zika, which is causing concern in South Korea. Dr. Yoon, who has spent years studying flaviviruses like dengue and Zika, is among the few Zika experts in South Korea. Read the English translation of the interview below. The original Korean-language article can be accessed here: http://bit.ly/1Tkswto
"Probability of Zika virus spreading immediately in Korea very low"
"Dengue outbreak in Yoyogi Park in Japan provides an example"
"When conditions are met over time, it is uncertain what will happen"
5 February, 2016
"The probability of Zika immediately spreading in Korea is very low. However, it remains uncertain what will happen over a period of time and if conditions are met." Dr. Yoon In-Kyu, Director of the Dengue Vaccine Initiative (DVI) at the International Vaccine Institute (IVI), is a Zika virus expert in South Korea.
In an interview with Yonhap News at IVI on February 4, Dr. Yoon repeated "It is uncertain” several times. He said, "It is because adequate studies have not been conducted yet." Zika virus generally causes mild febrile illness. Signs and symptoms also entail rash and conjunctivitis.
The reason Zika is worrisome to the general public is the risk of microcephaly (abnormal smallness of the head) in the newborn when a pregnant woman gets infected. Dr. Yoon said, "The link between microcephaly, which can have an immense impact on a person's life, and the virus is suspected and currently being clarified, and its link with Guillain-Barre Syndrome or other syndromes requires further investigation," adding, "It is premature to decisively judge the risk of the virus at this time."
However, Dr. Yoon said that based on facts and findings elucidated already, there is a possibility of the virus spreading in Korea. "This is because we cannot rule out the possibility that a person infected with Zika enters South Korea, is bitten by the Aedes albopictus mosquito vector, and transmits it to another person."
Dr. Yoon said the chance that these conditions will happen in the short term is extremely low, but he warned the virus could spread in South Korea during the course of similar situations repeating amongst many people over a longer period of time such as 1 year or even 10 years.
For example, Dr. Yoon described a similar case that occurred in Japan in 2014. A dengue outbreak involving more than 70 infected people occurred in Yoyogi Park in central Tokyo, the epicenter. It was the first time in 70 years that dengue transmission occurred in Japan. The Japanese authorities shut down the park for 57 days.
The virus that causes dengue is a 'flavivirus,' which is the same kind as Zika. The genetic sequences between the Zika virus and dengue virus are about 70 percent identical. The mosquitos that transmit the two viruses, Aedes (Stegomyia) albopictus and Aedes aegypti, are the same as well.
Dr. Yoon said "Emerging diseases including Zika, dengue and chikungunya are increasingly spreading in terms of number of patients and geographical scope," adding, "We cannot predict for certain, but the probability of rapid spread is likely to increase over time." He went on to say, "Changes including the development of better mosquito control techniques may help prevent such a situation from becoming a reality in the future."
"There is a long way to go in the quest to develop a Zika vaccine. Although dengue - for which a vaccine has been developed - and Zika both belong to the flavivirus group, we need to first analyze the characteristics of Zika virus. But the reality is research findings are still limited at this time."
For example, studies are needed to check whether a person with a history of dengue infection would develop immunity to Zika, or would symptoms be aggravated when a person is infected with Zika. While the world’s first dengue vaccine is available - developed with cooperation from IVI - and is licensed in several countries, some questions remain on its efficacy.
IVI, of which Dr. Yoon is currently affiliated, is a non-profit International Organization headquartered in Seoul, South Korea. The Institute was established as an initiative of the United Nations Development Programme with the mission to discover, develop and deliver safe, effective and affordable vaccines for global public health.
Dr. Yoon is a Korean-American. A graduate of Yale University with magna cum laude, he obtained his medical degree from New York University of School of Medicine. He served as a medical officer with the U.S. military, and has been engaged in public health research at military hospitals and research centers. In the late 1990s, he was stationed at the U.S. military hospital in Yongsan, Seoul.
Dr. Yoon said, smiling, "I am not comfortable speaking Korean, but I can hear and understand the language." In the interview, the reporter asked questions in Korean, and Dr. Yoon answered in English.
Dr. Yoon is considered a flavivirus expert. His group recently detected the presence of Zika virus in Thailand and the Philippines.
He said, "Since I have been continuously doing research in public health, and IVI’s mission is to develop and introduce vaccines for developing countries, that was very attractive to me; hence I chose to join IVI," adding, "Even if IVI was not based in Korea, I would have joined IVI but it is true that IVI’s base in South Korea was very attractive to me as well."