Dengue Fever Circles the Globe

Dengue is the fastest growing ‘tropical’ disease globally, and is spreading into areas that have never experienced such diseases. Transmitted by mosquitoes, it is now endemic in the United States. The symptoms are similar to flu – aching joints, fever, chills, and what’s known as a productive drainage of the upper respiratory system. These symptoms can range from mild to serious. The nasty thing about Dengue is what can happen on a second exposure. Patients bitten a second time by a mosquito carrying the virus can develop dengue hemorrhagic fever. This is an extremely serious condition and is too often fatal. In just the past few months, the first-ever vaccine against Dengue fever has been approved in El Salvador, Brazil, Mexico and the Philippines, placing physicians in these high-risk regions in a better position to offer some means of protection where none previously existed.

Dengue is an important Public Health issue. The vaccine industry has recently become more focused on the spread of this disease, and momentum is building in the diagnostic test development market as well. The technologies we normally associate with a broad panel of infectious diseases — accurate diagnostic tests and highly effective vaccines — are now becoming more widely available for dengue. As a tropical disease affecting mainly poorer countries, Dengue has had little commercial potential until recently. Emerging vaccine availability will have an impact, and there is a greater incentive for the diagnostic industry’s investment in diagnostic test development for Dengue virus as the impact of dengue and its priority globally elevates it on companies’ lists of development candidates.

Hemorrhagic fever is caused by each of four dengue serotypes (strains), which are very difficult to distinguish using the currently-available diagnostic tools. As this disease spreads into the southern United States and Europe, there is increasing urgency for development of diagnostic tests that distinguish all four strains. Microbix has been the primary source for Dengue virus antigen employed in development by the diagnostic industry for a number of years. We originally began supplying Dengue antigen a few years ago because diagnostic companies had no other source of supply. We have now made all four strains available to this specialty market and are the only supplier of the full panel of Dengue virus serotypes.

Like all viruses, some Dengue virus antigens are exposed to the surface while others are internal virus antigens. The antigens stimulate the immune system, inducing production of protective immune responses including antibodies. For that reason, antigens are the key reactive components used in diagnostic tests and vaccine research. Microbix cultures and purifies these antigens for use in research, diagnostic testing, and vaccine development. Biosafety and security in the production of infectious materials is regulated by the government’s Public Health Agency of Canada, which issues Microbix a license for our production facility.

The Dengue virus segment of the tropical disease market will continue to grow. Microbix has the most widely used native Dengue antigens in the industry, a particularly difficult virus to manufacture. These antigens are critical to developing more sensitive, accurate and specific diagnostics important to the healthcare industry’s task of tracking, monitoring and treating this disease.

Zika, Chikungunya, and West Nile Viruses are members of the same family as Dengue, Flavivirus.