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K-State Today

September 19, 2017

K-State researchers co-author study in Nature Scientific Reports

Submitted by Sarah Hancock

Studying interactions between mosquito-borne diseases can help scholars understand how Zika develops and how to defeat it with vaccines. A new study co-authored by three K-State researchers published in Nature Scientific Reports helps advance that work.

Yan-Jang S. Huang, research assistant professor; Dana Vanlandingham, associate professor; and Stephen Higgs, professor of diagnostic medicine and pathobiology in the K-State College of Veterinary Medicine, were part of a team that discovered prior exposure to Zika virus infection can increase the incidence of severe diseases caused by dengue virus infections.

According to the World Health Organization, as many as 100 million people are infected with dengue viruses every year. Like Zika virus, dengue is mainly transmitted by the yellow fever virus mosquito, Aedes aegypti. Both viruses share a common geographic area. For example, infections of Zika virus in South and Central America, and islands such as Puerto Rico, have occurred in areas where dengue virus is commonly found. Although becoming infected with dengue virus normally causes high fever and a skin rash, hundreds of thousands of cases progress to more severe diseases with an estimated 20,000 deaths per year. Infection with a virus normally induces antibodies that protect people from future infections with the same virus, but with dengue, antibodies to one type can actually make a secondary infection much worse and potentially fatal — a phenomenon known as antibody-dependent enhancement.

Structural similarities between the two viruses raised researchers' concerns that antibody responses developed during infection with Zika virus could lead to more severe disease outcomes when the same individuals are subsequently infected with dengue virus. This study demonstrates this scenario is likely in nonhuman primate species and can potentially have clinical and epidemiological significance in humans. Additional research is necessary to determine the exact mechanisms that contribute to this phenomenon.

"This work involved scientists from multiple institutes working together and highlights the importance and value of collaborative research," said Higgs, who is also director of the Biosecurity Research Institute at K-State, where the challenge Zika virus used in the study was produced.

Huang said the findings will bolster both current and future treatments of the disease.

"In the last two decades, we have witnessed the unprecedented spread of both Zika and dengue viruses in multiple regions in the world. This study provides much-needed evidence demonstrating that host defense responses against these two related viruses will likely lead to more severe diseases. It is important not only for physicians and case management by clinicians but also for the development of vaccines for both viruses," Huang said.

The open-access article was published Sept. 5.