New Scientist magazine is reporting a scientific advance that may hold the key to defeating  a mosquito-borne virus that turned dangerous and deadly and has been spreading across the world for the past five years. Carried by the tiger mosquito and driven by the forces of global commerce, chikungunya  virus causes fever, headache, nausea as well as excruciating pain in smaller joints, earning it the nickname “knuckle fever.”  This virulent form first appeared in the islands of the Indian Ocean but has since invaded every continent by way of airports and sea ports.   The CDC highlights some specific reports of recent activity in Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia on their website, where they also offer advice to clinicians and travelers. 

Now the U.S.  National Institutes of Health (NIH) are reporting a breakthrough in the search for a vaccine by using genetic engineering to create virus-like particles which perfectly mimic the virus without being infectious. Tests with Rhesus monkeys have shown the vaccine to be completely effective against chikungunya. Testing in humans is likely to begin in one to three years.

The NIH’s work with chikungunya  may have ushered in a new era of vaccine production that could prove to be safer and more effective than the many live virus vaccines that are in use today.  It may only be a matter of time before vaccines created from pieces of viruses will replace those derived from whole, live viruses. Diseases such as Kala Azar, sleeping sickness and Dengue fever that afflict travelers to tropical regions do not currently have effective vaccines.  In principle, the creation of vaccines from virus like particles could someday eliminate that problem.

Photo info: http://www.flickr.com/photos/deadmike/ / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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About The Author

Frank Gillingham, M.D. serves as Chief Medical Director for HTH Worldwide. Frank has led HTH Worldwide's international business development efforts in Europe and Canada and has been a guest speaker at international business conferences and has authored a series of articles on travel medicine, including pieces on travel information available on the Internet and the role of physicians working with travel insurers. Frank is a Board-Certified Internist and Emergency Medicine Specialist. He is also a private emergency physician in Southern California and a former emergency department director and member of the UCLA emergency department staff. Frank completed residency training at Los Angeles County/USC Medical Center, received his M.D. from Albert Einstein College of Medicine and his B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania .

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  1. Tests with Rhesus monkeys have shown the vaccine to be completely effective against chikungunya. Testing in humans is likely to begin in one to three years.

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