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MIAMI (CBSMiami) — A drug used to prevent and treat malaria could also help fight the Zika virus, according to research published Monday.

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It’s called chloroquine and it’s been used since the 1950s, researchers said.

Dr. Angela Rocha (C), pediatric infectologist at Oswaldo Cruz Hospital, examines Ludmilla Hadassa Dias de Vasconcelos (2 months), who has microcephaly, on January 26, 2016 in Recife, Brazil. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The drug is easily available, low in cost and has a history of being safe to use during pregnancy.

Researchers say the drug, when tested on pregnant mice, significantly reduced the amount of the virus in maternal blood and certain cells in the fetus’s brain.

It’s a good sign since the virus is considered a major global health risk, especially for pregnant women.

They’re most at risk since the virus causes serious birth defects like microcephaly – a defect that has no way to reverse or treat.

“Although chloroquine didn’t completely clear Zika from infected mice it did reduce the viral load, suggesting it could limit the neurological damage found in newborns infected by the virus,” said Alexey Terskikh, Ph. D., who co-authored the study which was published in Scientific Reports.

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The chloroquine was given to pregnant mice through their drinking water. They believe the way the virus infects them, is the best representation of how it would happen in humans.

“We believe our mouse model more accurately represents the way Zika virus infects men, women, and babies while in the womb,” added Terskik.

Researchers say more research is needed to determine precisely how it works.

The work is something that hits close to home for Floridians.

Last year, the Zika outbreak affected hundreds, putting the state in the spotlight as it worked to prevent the virus from spreading.

Due to mosquito control measures and education efforts, the virus’s spread has since slowed down.

At last check,  there were 217 people, including 114 pregnant women,  that had been infected with Zika in 2017.

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