A new study has made scientists re-evaluate their initial understanding of the deadly dengue virus. An international consortium of scientists, including notable researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, collaborated to map the antigenic disparities that exist between different strains of the virus.

New Developments Could Lead To Better Outcomes

Scientists had managed to identify and describe four distinct antigenic variants, also known as serotypes, of the dengue virus. However, a recent paper in Science reported that even though the virus mainly clustered around these four genetically distinct strains, there was considerable overlapping among the types when it came to being identified by the body’s immune system.

Various dengue vaccines are under development, yet currently there is no licensed vaccine available. This is extremely unfortunate, since the deadly virus infects about 390 million people annually, out of which at least 500,000 suffer from potentially life-threatening complications. Despite vigorous efforts to develop a suitable vaccine, scientists now believe that their understanding of the dengue virus might be too simplistic.

“Instead of being four distinct antigenic groups, there is a continuum, or overlapping, of these relationships. This makes the situation of vaccine developers even harder”, stated Nikos Vasilakis, an Associate Professor in the Department of Pathology at UTMB who is among the authors of the study.

Alarming Statistics Call For Immediate Action

UTMB’s World Reference Center for Emerging Viruses and Arboviruses (WRCEVA) is one of the largest reference centers for worldwide insect-transmitted viruses, and contains a collection of about 7,000 different strains. The center managed to provide various strains of the dengue virus for observation, along with historical data.

The dengue virus has existed for hundreds of years, spreading through the tropics and subtropics. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), over a third of the global population currently reside in areas where the virus thrives.

Presently, the only potential method to control the virus from spreading is to control its host; the Aedes mosquitoes that transmits and spreads the virus. However, for effective long-term eradication, a vaccine is essential, and the findings of this study could help developers come to a concrete solution soon.