The World Health Organization (WHO) has officially endorsed the world’s first Dengue fever vaccine, a disease that infects 390 million people each year.
Dengue symptoms include fever (sometimes as high as 105°F/40°C), pain in muscles, bones and joints, headaches, nose and gum bleeds and other similarly pleasant manifestation. The disease is caused by a virus which spreads through mosquito-bites and is closely related to the Zika virus. It emerged as a worldwide problem in the 1950s and up to now, apart from trying to keep the insects at bay, there was not much people could do to avoid infection. Dengue is spread by several species of mosquito and there is no known cure for the disease.
The vaccine is the product of two decades of research by French-based Sanofi Pasteur. Four countries—Mexico, Brazil, El Salvador and the Philippines—have already licensed Dengvaxia, but it is believed that this endorsement from the WHO, the vaccine will be introduced in many other countries.
“In countries where dengue is endemic, it’s one of the most feared diseases,” says Dr. In-Kyu Yoon, director of the Dengue Vaccine Initiative, an international consortium that has partnered with Sanofi. “The trajectory globally is increasing—at this point it’s essentially a pandemic.”
Part of why the development of a vaccine took so long is that the virus is very complex and difficult to understand. It has four strains, more than other diseases such as polio and smallpox. Also, because there are no reliable animal models, human trials had to be designed from scratch, which is expensive and time-consuming. Even if this vaccine becomes implemented, it won’t eradicate Dengue overnight as supply and delivery will still be challenging, but it’s definitely good news.
Although dengue rarely occurs in the continental United States, it is endemic in many parts of the world. Clocking in at a staggering 400 million new infections per year, an efficient vaccine for dengue could make a huge difference in the livelihood of those living in high-risk areas.