Chikungunya could identify high-risk patients

The chikungunya virus, carried by mosquitoes, causes fever, with headaches and muscle and joint pain that normally lasts for about a week. However, in some patients, the joint pains can last for up to two years, and the infection can even be life-threatening. Researchers from Singapore have found blood biomarkers that could spot these patients, allowing doctors to provide earlier and more focused treatment.

The researchers, from A*STAR's Singapore Immunology Network, looked at plasma samples from people infected with the chikungunya virus. Those who quickly developed high levels of antibodies against the virus were less likely to develop the severe form of the disease than those with a delayed response, according to A*STAR's release. The researchers also found antibodies specific to an epitope (a molecule on the surface of the virus recognized by the immune system) called E2EP3, and using this as a vaccine was able to protect mice from chikungunya virus infection.

Chikungunya fever is endemic in Southeast Asia and Africa. The virus re-emerged in 2005 and is now found in almost 20 countries, and there is no clinically-approved vaccine or treatment, channelnewsasia.com reported. A test to detect the level of antibody response straight after infection could help physicians find the patients at risk for the more severe form of the disease. Using the E2EP3 peptide to create a blood-based diagnostic could improve the speed of diagnosis and treatment, and a new vaccine could prevent the virus from spreading further across the developing world.

Indian Immunologicals is developing what the company describes as the world's first chikungunya vaccine, in preclinical studies. Clinical trials are planned for 2012 or 2013.

- here's the press release
- here's the report from channelnewsasia.com
- see the abstract

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