New clue to fighting Dengue fever

Scientists may have discovered new clues as to how the body fights off the tropical disease Dengue fever, according to research published in the journal Science.

The researchers, based in the U.K. and Thailand, are hopeful that their research will aide them in the search for a vaccine.

According to the article, researchers took blood samples from infected volunteers. They found antibodies produced in response to the virus do not do a very effective job.

Rather than neutralizing the virus, they actually help it infect more cells, springing into action when a person is infected a second time by a different strain of the virus. This accounts for why a second bout of Dengue fever can be more severe and dangerous.

Researchers think this new information provides insight into how to design a vaccine for dengue fever. The authors of the Science paper say vaccines that steer clear of a key viral protein involved in the immune response should be the most effective.

“Our new research gives us some key information about what is and what is not likely to work when trying to combat the dengue virus," Professor Gavin Screaton, head of the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London and the leader of the study, told Science, "We hope that our findings will bring scientists one step closer to creating an effective vaccine.”

Screaton said one of the major challenges was developing a vaccine for a virus that has four very different strains.

Dengue fever is a tropical disease spread by mosquito bites. Researchers say it is a major cause of illness worldwide and that, thus far, there is currently no licensed vaccine or drug treatment.

Dengue fever is prevalent in sub-tropical and tropical regions including South East Asia and South America. It is a major cause of illness worldwide, causing about 100 million illnesses a year. Symptoms include high fever, aching in the joints and vomiting. Complications rarely prove fatal.