Chikungunya: What Is it, Why Is it Dangerous, and What Is Being Done to Help?

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As tropical viruses increase in the US, Infection Control Today wanted to learn more about chikungunya. Here is what we learned.

As tropical viruses show up more often in the United States, Infection Control Today® (ICT®) wanted to get more information about one virus in particular: the chikungunya. To learn more, ICT spoke with Thomas Rademacher, MD, PhD, cofounder of Emergex, who has served as CEO since the company's formation. He is also an emeritus professor of Molecular Medicine at University College London.

Rademacher explains the virus, related viruses, and how Emergex recently signed a contract with the UK Department of Health and Social Care to advance a CD8 T cell-based vaccine candidate against chikungunya.

Chikungunya virus, 3D illustration. Emerging mosquito-borne RNA virus from Togaviridae family that can cause outbreaks of a debilitating arthritis-like disease   (Adobe Stock 126688070 by Dr Microbe)

Chikungunya virus, 3D illustration. Emerging mosquito-borne RNA virus from Togaviridae family that can cause outbreaks of a debilitating arthritis-like disease

(Adobe Stock 126688070 by Dr Microbe)

Chikungunya is a viral disease from the Togavirdidae genus Alphavirus that has gained increasing attention in recent years due to its rapid spread and debilitating effects on individuals. This infectious disease is primarily transmitted to humans through the bite of infected Aedes mosquitoes, primarily Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus. Chikungunya is characterized by a sudden onset of high fever, severe joint pain, and a range of other influenza-like symptoms, making it challenging to diagnose accurately. While it is not typically fatal, the acute phase of the illness can be extremely distressing and incapacitating, often leaving individuals bedridden for weeks.

The name "chikungunya" is derived from the Kimakonde language, meaning "to become contorted," which aptly describes the painful joint deformities that can result from the infection.

“Therefore, to generate types of vaccines that will have broad specificity will cross-react, but we're acting with more than one because it's just not practical,” Rademacher said. “If people go to endemic regions where mosquitoes are, you don't know what you're going to get there….The idea here is to use chikungunya as sort of a prototype and develop a vaccine against that. But the hope is, of course, that vaccine will cover other members of the chikungunya family.”

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