- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 6, 2017

An experimental vaccine for chikungunya — a mosquito-borne virus sometimes mistaken for Zika — is beginning clinical trials at three sites in the U.S., the National Institutes of Health announced Monday.

Chikungunya is rarely fatal and, unlike Zika, does not lead to birth defects if a pregnant woman is infected. The two virus’ can both be asymptomatic, or share similar symptoms like joint pain, fever, rash and muscle pain.

Pregnant women infected by the Zika virus can have newborns with devastating birth defects, including microcephaly, underdevelopment of the brain and skull.

The danger of chikungunya, however, is that symptoms can last for months or even years.

While the virus is typically found in Africa, Asia, Europe and the India and Pacific oceans, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention puts the first case in the Americas as arriving in 2013.

The only current treatments for chikungunya is mosquito-bite prevention, using insect repellents, taking care to cover exposed skin, and avoiding areas with mosquito populations.

A next phase trial of a vaccine is a promising development for a discomforting virus.

“Chikungunya virus can cause debilitating joint pain that can last for months or even longer,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in a statement. “A vaccine to prevent infection with this virus would be of considerable benefit to people living in the more than 60 countries where chikungunya transmission has occurred, as well as travelers to those countries.”

The clinical trial seeks to enroll 180 healthy adults ages 18 to 45 at three sites, including the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and Emory University in Atlanta. Participants will receive two injections of either a low dose or high dose of the experimental vaccine or placebo, the NIH said.

Over the course of eight to 13 months, researchers will follow up with participants in the clinic and with phone calls to observe any adverse reactions, and test blood samples to determine any antibody production, a sign the vaccine is “promoting an immune response.”

In March, the NIH announced the beginning of Phase II testing for a Zika vaccine, enrolling close to 2,500 participants who received a non-infectious version of the virus, intended to stimulate the body’s immune response.

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