Taking sting out of Chikungunya

By Sanjib Kumar Roy
Published: Tuesday 15 July 2008

Scientists begin work on vaccine in Port Blair

scientists at the Regional Medical Research Centre (rmrc) of Andaman and Nicobar Islands are all set to begin work on developing a vaccine against Chikungunya, a viral infection that killed over 80 people in India in 2006.

"Although the outbreak has subsided, the vector mosquito Aedes aegypti is prevalent in these islands. Further outbreaks may occur and there is a need to be vigilant against this relatively less studied disease," said P Vijayachari, director, rmrc, Port Blair. The Chikungunya virus found in the islands of Andaman and Nicobar is more virulent than those in other parts of India.

rmrc is waiting for clearance from the Indian Council of Medical Research and the Union health ministry to take up the project formally for which the groundwork is almost over. According to Vijayachari, getting the clearance may take two-three months. rmrc first initiated studies on the Chikungunya virus in 2006 and reported chemical deviations in the virus found in far-flung islands of the union territory. "It means the Chikungunya virus found in these islands is far more dangerous than those in the rest of India. It leaves patients almost paralysed for months," said Vijayachari. That year about 1.2 million people in Karnataka, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala suffered from Chikungunya, which causes severe joint pain and fever.

Experts often say that vaccines against mosquito-borne diseases are difficult to develop as is in the case of malaria, but rmrc scientists are optimistic about a breakthrough. "The first step is the most important step. If we fail some other scientists may utilize the research and work further in some other corner of the world. We have already taken the first step and done some good work which came out in several international journals, this work would never go waste," said Vijayachari.

Developing a vaccine involves finding out the gene sequence causing the infection, determine whether the virus is immunogenic, conducting animal experimentation and clinical trials.

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