Chikungunya virus: UK tries to stop cases

Written by Staff Writer

British charity HelpAge International has started vaccinating children as young as one on the vaccine which prevents the Chikungunya virus.

HelpAge International and the World Health Organization (WHO) have teamed up in the UK to vaccinate children under the age of 12. This vaccinations is part of a research programme that will look at the effectiveness of vaccinating people against the Chikungunya virus. The next generation vaccine is expected to offer the same effectiveness and lower side effects as the current vaccine which is currently used.

“We’ve all had an experience where we’ve felt sick and tired and it’s important to know that this is just the start of a battle,” said Doreen Turk, HelpAge International’s Director of Health. “Every year more than 100 million people are infected with Chikungunya and half of them have their lives devastated by the mosquito-borne disease.”

The government announced last October that the disease was spreading rapidly in the UK and cases had doubled since 2017. Experts say there’s been an increase in reported cases, but researchers still don’t know exactly how many people have been infected with the virus.

Chikungunya is caused by a virus that has been transmitted by mosquitoes which bite during the day and spring-summer months. Victims have either a mild or severe form of the disease. In 2016, there were more than 800,000 new cases recorded in 17 countries across Africa, Asia and the Americas.

Chikungunya is not spread by human contact but a type of blood-borne virus that can only be passed between human beings. The disease spreads easily through the bite of mosquitoes, especially in regions where there are relatively few people, such as on the islands of Bali, Madagascar, Mauritius and the Seychelles.

Though extremely rare in the UK, up to 40,000 people contracting Chikungunya is the biggest outbreak to date.

Most people infected with Chikungunya recover within a few weeks, but hundreds of thousands of people are hospitalized and thousands more die each year.

HelpAge International is in the process of vaccinating children in three areas of the UK and hopes to eventually expand the program to more locations across the UK. As of February, over 1,000 children have been vaccinated across the UK and this number is expected to increase significantly as more children aged 1-10 from HelpAge organizations in the south-east and the north-west regions of the UK are added to the group.

HelpAge International’s Doreen Turk said: “We want to raise awareness of this potentially fatal virus so that people don’t get infected and then suffer long-term complications.”

She explained that so far, only one virus vaccine, namely the one that will be used for the next generation, has been effective against Chikungunya.

In previous research, it was suggested that it was the sero-environment which could cause both vaccine and human disease reactions.

But in testing, Turk said that “the placebo did not cause any side effects”.

“We are delighted that we’ve been able to offer children a new vaccine, that could help keep people protected,” said Sharon Redfern, Head of Health at Cancer Research UK.

“There is still more to be done in researching this novel vaccine before it is available to the public, but this trial is an important step in that direction and will provide researchers with valuable information that could lead to the development of effective tools to prevent all forms of the disease. This trial will also be an opportunity to find out more about how the vaccine works to prevent infection.

“We know that mosquitoes are adapting to better cope with the vaccine, and this approach could be a key way of preventing future outbreaks of disease by identifying new sites where mosquitoes and humans interact and developing suitable insecticide treatments.”

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