Almost 400 million people a year are affected with the mosquito-borne virus, but a recent dengue fever treatment breakthrough has forwarded modern medicine closer to a solution. It is one of the main causes of illness and death in the tropics, with only incomplete treatments found so far.
It is no longer a restrained crisis as in the past 50 years, the dengue virus has begun spreading from nine countries to over one hundred nations, increasing its rate of infection by 30 all through the world. Even though the chance of survival has been relatively high, 20,000 are estimated to die from the virus each year, with another 30 million infected annually only in India.
The virus is commonly transmitted by the Aedes mosquito, which further causes dengue fever. What makes it so dangerous and difficult to cure is its four different serotypes (DENV-1, DENV-2, DENV-3 and DENV-4), all circulating unpredictably in nature and can cause a variety of symptoms, such as internal bleeding, rashes, joint pains, vomiting and, of course, fever.
The four serotypes elicit different responses from the immune system, which makes it challenging for the antibodies to fight off. They are characterized by different antigens, which means that while the body can generate protection from one serotype, it will not do the same for another.
Furthermore, a later infection with a second serotypes will send the virus into overdrive, causing more severe symptoms such as hemorrhagic fever or “dengue shock syndrome”, which can be fatal. In order to prevent a second, riskier infection, researchers are working on a vaccine that will fight all four serotypes at the same time and virtually neutralize the virus.
One of the most common serotypes is DENV-2. Its distinguished quality is that it can shift its form while in the body. Researchers have studied and now found the structure of a human monoclonal antibody that will counteract the dengue virus.
With the use of cryo-electron microscopy, they have frozen the serotype in order observe the antibody-antigen to an anatomic level. The study has shown the human monoclonal antibody to prevent the virus from infecting and stop it from fusing into the target cell. It does not only stop the virus in its initial form, but has also succeeded in battling it once shifted.
Researchers emphasize the need for a “drug cocktail” that will successfully stop all four serotypes and have been working diligently toward a vaccine. They have already developed an effective way of killing DENV-3 and an antibody has been found for DENV-1. It took 20 years of research and strong investments, but with findings of antibodies to fight off DENV-2, scientists are one step closer to a complete cure.
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