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Mosquito-carried diseases such as the Zika virus and Dengue continue to thrive in warm temperate parts of the world, but new US Department of Defense research suggests we are on the cusp of a vaccine that could potentially work to fight both infections.
A new study published online in Nature Medicine reveals results from an ongoing project led by scientists from the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. In the Phase 1 trial, scientists found that an antibody, named MZ4, was able to have a positive effect on both the Zika virus and the dengue virus. Although the early stages, these results suggest this antibody may one day play a role in a universal vaccine that would be able to work against the Zika virus and dengue.
“Rapid-onset countermeasures are needed to protect military personnel, travelers and residents in areas where emerging infections such as Zika and dengue viruses are already widespread and expanding,” said Dr. Kayvon Modjarrad, who leads the U.S. Army Zika vaccine program, directs the Emerging Infectious Diseases Branch at WRAIR and is one of the lead authors on the paper, in a press release.”These results demonstrate the potential for MZ4 to be part of the prevention toolbox for these diseases.”
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Zika is a virus spread through infected mosquitos that can cause symptoms such as fever, headache, and joint pain. However, the virus is most worrisome in pregnant women, as they are able to pass it onto their fetus. In some cases, this may cause a birth defect in the child known as microcephaly. Scientists currently do not show how likely it is for Zika to affect a fetus or what the full range of health effects of Zika on a pregnancy actually is.
The World Health Organization reports that Dengue causes a severe flu-like illness and, sometimes a potentially lethal complication called severe dengue.
Both viruses are carried by mosquitoes and therefore most common in areas with climate ideal for mosquito breeding.
Preliminary results suggest that individuals who have already been exposed to certain types of flaviviruses, and therefore have some form of viral immunity, may need less dosing of MZ4 to obtain a measurable immune effect. For example, when volunteers with pre-existing dengue exposure were able to elicit a Zike antibody response after only one dose. However, those without pre-exposure needed a second dose to elicit the same.
“These new findings indicate that an effective Zika vaccine could both boost dengue virus immune responses and generate potent Zika neutralizing antibodies that might have unique potential as a prevention tool in regions where both dengue and Zika are prevalent,” said Dr. Shelly Krebs, a B cell researcher at WRAIR and senior author of the paper.