North Carolina scientists research chikungunya vaccine

Chikungunya stock

RALEIGH, N.C. (WHNS) — A new vaccine is on its way to stop the spread of a mosquito-borne virus that just made its way to the United States, and the research is happening in the Carolinas.

FOX Carolina traveled to Raleigh for an exclusive look inside the lab that’s trying to stop the spread of chikungunya.

Several people in the Carolinas picked up the disease while traveling in the Caribbean. The virus is also active in Florida, Texas and Hawaii.

As the dog days of summer are in full swing, bringing scores of mosquitoes, researchers at the Raleigh lab Arbovax said they’re trying to get their vaccine approved quickly, before the U.S. sees major chikungunya outbreaks.

Chikungunya ranks with the West Nile virus and Dengue fever; they’re all spread through mosquito bites.

The potentially paralyzing virus has been in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean, but through globalization, travelers carry it home.

Arbovax’s director, Malcolm Thomas, equates chikungunya to the influenza, multiplied by 10. He said it, along with Dengue fever, will keep people in bed for days.

Thomas said Dengue fever and chikungunya have a lot in common in terms of research, so when it took two years to create a Dengue fever vaccine, chikungunya was close behind.

“We tried chikungunya as an academic exercise but it turned out that we had a vaccine in a couple of months,” said Thomas.

He said that Dengue fever is probably two or three years ahead of chikungunya in the U.S “so if it follows the same pattern, we’re going to see maybe more outbreaks next year, and maybe even more outbreaks the year after.”

Scientists know that there’s no way to prevent the viruses from forming because it’s part of evolution.

“You cant really kill off all the mosquitoes, because the whole ecosystem would collapse, so the best thing is to be careful with your exposure and then … the vaccines,” said Raquel Hernandez, PhD, Arbovax’s chief scientific officer.

She said because chikungunya is a “level three pathogen,” her team can’t work on the virus out in the open, or it could spread. So they study another, similarly structured virus. And even test on small animals, which Thomas said was successful.

With a lengthy FDA approval process, it could take another two or three years before a vaccine could be on the market. Thomas said most Americans are safe, but now is the time to prepare since the virus is already spreading.

Scientists said if someone already has the virus, the vaccine would not be of use. People need to be vaccinated before getting chikungunya.

The vaccine they’ve come up with will work a bit like the flu vaccine. The scientists say what they’ve come up with mimics the virus, but it can’t make a person sick. They do explain, just like with the flu vaccine, that small symptoms, like sniffles, is a good thing because it means the person’s body is working.

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