Monday 7 April is World Health Day with a focus on vector-borne diseases
The Pirbright Institute, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Centre (BBSRC), has a major programme of research on virus vector-borne diseases. This includes diseases of animals and diseases of humans. Diseases under study include tick-borne encephalitis, chikungunya, Rift Valley fever, bluetongue, African horse sickness, African swine fever, Schmallenberg and Nairobi sheep disease.
Leading virologists, including Professor John Fazakerley, Director at The Pirbright Institute, are forming a new task force to address chikungunya, a vector-borne disease that is quickly spread to humans by mosquitoes.
For many years this disease has remained primarily in Africa, the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. It has now reached the Caribbean and South America prompting the formation of the Global Virus Network (GVN) Chikungunya Task Force. Comprised of top virologists from around the world, the task force is being led by Dr. Scott Weaver at the University of Texas Medical Branch, Professor John K. Fazakerley at the Pirbright Institute in the UK, and Professor Marc Lecuit at the Institut Pasteur in France. All of the participating members are affiliated with GVN Centres of Excellence. Much of the group’s effort will focus on issues related to more rapid identification of infections, improved treatment options and development of an effective vaccine.
The announcement of this new task force coincides with World Health Day, which is celebrated annually on 7 April and this year has the theme of vector-borne diseases.
“Viruses are among the leading causes of death and disability in the world. Being able to quickly bring together the most knowledgeable researchers without regards to borders and political agendas to address viral threats such as Chikungunya is paramount,” said GVN co-founder and scientific director Dr. Robert Gallo and director of the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, USA.
Professor John Fazakerley commented: “Major outbreaks of chikungunya occur every few decades. The current epidemic started in East Africa in 2005 and then spread continually eastwards. The infection has recently reached the Americas with 15,000 cases reported since October 2013. At The Pirbright Institute, as part of our virus vector-borne diseases programme, we are working with European colleagues to understand how the virus causes disease, and to develop a new vaccine and diagnostics.”
There is no specific antiviral drug treatment for chikungunya and treatment of those infected is directed primarily at relieving symptoms, which include a very high fever and joint pain. The joint pain is often very debilitating and, in some cases, persists for several months or years. The symptoms are very similar to dengue another mosquito-borne infection.
More information about the Global Virus Network’s Chikungunya Task Force is available by visiting gvn.org.