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Upstate researchers mark World Dengue Day June 15

Researchers with Upstate Medical University’s Global Health Institute have circled June 15 on their calendar. That’s World Dengue Day, which is recognized in many corners of the globe where dengue is a public health threat.

According to the World Health Organization, dengue is a disease spread by infected Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitos that infect an estimated 400 million people every year. The severity of dengue can range anywhere from mild flu-like symptoms to life-threatening dengue hemorrhagic fever. Reports show that 20,000 people die from dengue virus infections annually.

While dengue is less of a threat here in the United States, though dengue-carrying mosquitos are being found in parts of the South and Southeastern United States, Upstate researchers are pulling out all the stops in their research dedicated to this disease.

There are no dengue antiviral therapies currently available, and the only currently available dengue vaccine is only recommended for use in individuals previously infected with dengue and living in areas where dengue is common.

Upstate has made ground on the research front by advancing the development of an experimental Dengue Human Infection Model (DHIM) that is expected to be used widely by drug makers to advance the development of safe and effective vaccines against the dengue viruses. 

“We have demonstrated the ability to safely and consistently infect people with a weakened dengue virus, generate a mild dengue-like illness, and then study how the virus and human immune system interact,” said the study’s lead author, Adam Waickman, PhD, Upstate assistant professor of microbiology and immunology. “This dengue human infection model is actively being used to test vaccines and drugs.”

To develop the model, researchers injected nine individuals with a weakened strain of dengue virus and then monitored their health daily for the first 28 days after inoculation and then in various intervals up to 180 days post-infection.

Within the first month of receiving the injection of the virus, all participants had reported mild to moderate symptoms consistent with dengue including headache, muscle aches, and fatigue. All volunteers had detectable levels of the virus in their bloodstream. Researchers used blood samples taken after infection to intensely characterize how the virus replicated and how the immune system responded to the virus.

The Upstate research team hopes this new Dengue Human Infection Model accelerates vaccine and drug development and starts to lessen the global dengue burden.

Upstate will bring together experts for its second Dengue Endgame Summit with the title “Imagining a world with dengue control” on Aug. 7, here in Syracuse. For more on Summit, go to: https://www.suny-dengue.org/

For more on mosquito-borne diseases and Upstate's work on the issue, check out WCNY's Cycle of Health program featuring Upstate's Stephen Thomas, MD, Adam Waickman, PhD, and Onondaga County Health Commissioner Kathryn Anderson, MD, PhD.

Caption: Dengue is caused by a virus transmitted primarily by Aedes aegypti mosquitoes.