A hard to pronounce viral disease with some terrible symptoms is in the human trials phase for a vaccine. Chikungunya is the painful, mosquito-borne disease that has made the jump from tropical regions around the globe to the United States. While not a lethal disease, it can cause severe pain for weeks.

The details of a Phase I trial of a possible vaccine were published yesterday in the Lancet medical journal. Government scientists at the National Institutes of Health used 25 volunteers and achieved an impressive outcome. Immune response was up against Chikungunya, and no serious side effects were reported.

The disease can come from two different mosquito species and symptoms range from fever, severe headaches and joint pain that can last for months in extreme cases. Right now, there is little treatment protocol, and this Phase I trial represents the first crack at a vaccine.

Lead researcher on the trial, Dr. Julie Ledgerwood released a statement on the success. “We believe it is a highly promising vaccine given how well tolerated it was and how robust the immune responses were.”

Chikungunya popped on American health radars this year as the disease made the jump from travelling infections to locally transmitted infections. The volunteers were not actually exposed to the virus, but their immune response was measured using a form of neutralising proteins.

25 healthy Americans, aged 18-50 were given one of three dosage levels in three injections over 20 weeks. After the first shot, most exhibited an immune response. By the second, all the volunteers had high levels of the antibodies. These were still present in the volunteers bloodstream six months after the final shot.

The reason behind the intense wait time is due to this just being a Phase I trial. It calculated safety and dosage ranges. A Phase II trial would be conducted to test further effectiveness and safety. Finally, the vaccine would move to a large Phase III trial. This is the final effectiveness and safety trial over a large group of volunteers.

Dr. Ledgerwood talked about the length of time involved. “A Phase II trial likely would take several more years, both for the production of vaccine as well as development and completion of the trial.”

For now, the vaccine just shows promise. With the effectiveness and safety, researchers can push towards a Phase II trial. That will probably involve a private drugmaker due to the costs associated with it. With Chikungunya becoming more prevalent, securing a partner for funding shouldn’t be an issue. It may turn into a lucrative vaccine for the drugmaker that hops on board.

Update. Dr. Rajeev Vaidyanathan on possible ways to prevent chikungunya now.

“Scientists anticipated transmission of chikungunya (CHIKV) in the U.S. since the 2005-2007 outbreak in Asia, Africa, and Europe,” according to Dr. Rajeev Vaidyanathan, Director of Environmental Science at Clarke, the global environmental company that for over 60 years has been dedicated to prevent mosquito-borne disease around the world. “It was really only a matter of time. Travelers returning from South Asia, East Africa, and the Caribbean are bringing the virus back to the U.S., where we have mosquito species that can transmit the virus from person to person. There are also no vaccines or specific treatments for CHIKV, and the symptoms are so general – high fever and joint pain – that diagnosis is difficult.”

“Unlike West Nile, which is maintained in birds, humans are the reservoir for CHIKV—if a mosquito bites an infected human, it can become infected and can spread the virus to other humans,” says Vaidyanathan. “Managing and implementing a mosquito control program is critical to lowering the risk of infection. Because the mosquitoes responsible for transmitting CHIKV breed in temporary containers, such as pots and tires, reducing the availability of breeding sites and controlling adult populations are essential to controlling the spread of the virus.”

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