In late 2013 the Caribbean had its first case of the mosquito-borne chikungunya virus. Today there have been almost 1.2 million cases in 44 countries or territories, including 177 cases in 31 U.S. States.

Aedes mosquito
Aedes aegypti image/CDC

Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s James Crowe, M.D., Ann Scott Carell Professor and director of the Vanderbilt Vaccine Center, and his team are reporting the first large panel of antibody treatments against this disease in the current issue of Cell Host and Microbe.

Transmitted by the bite of infected mosquitoes, it’s one of the largest outbreaks of any virus in the world. And you don’t even necessarily have to travel out of the country to get it. The virus is not spread from person to person but spreads with a domino effect from an infected mosquito to a person and from that person to a previously uninfected mosquito, and on to the next person.

Crowe and his team are developing antibodies to fight chikungunya. The virus is transmitted by two types of Aedes mosquitoes, both now found in the southeastern U.S.

Chikungunya virus causes a flu-like illness with headaches and fever and then disabling joint pain that can last for years. Up until now, there has been no effective treatment for the virus infection, and there is no licensed vaccine to prevent it.

The development process in Crowe’s laboratory works like this: With a few ounces of blood from a previously infected person, researchers find chikungunya antibody- secreting cells, and then those cells are processed to retrieve their DNA and antibody genes. The team started about two years ago acquiring blood from people who had chikungunya as children and has isolated 3 dozen chikungunya antibodies so far. “Amazingly even decades after an infection, people still have cells in their blood making antibodies for chikungunya,” Crowe said.

Read the rest of the Vanderbilt news release HERE