Since the global outbreak began a few years ago, we’ve been in search of a Zika vaccine. While there has been reason for hope in the past, we still don’t have immunization to prevent the virus.
In early 2019, there still isn’t an approved vaccine for the Zika virus. But, we do know that previous exposure to one other virus could reduce the risks of Zika.
Published on January 22, a recent study on PLOS medicine showed that children were 38 percent less likely to get sick from the Zika virus if they already had dengue fever in the past.
Now, dengue is far from a better alternative. The mosquito-borne virus can infect 400 million people each year, according to the CDC. Dengue is the leading cause of death in the tropics and subtropics. Much like Zika, there is no vaccine for dengue fever.
Zika virus, another mosquito-borne disease, is most known to cause severe birth defects in pregnant woman and greatly increases risk of a miscarriage. But, the virus can still infect and cause issues for children.
The two viruses both come from the Flavivirus genus. Dengue and Zika are even spread by the same species of mosquitoes: Aedes aegypti.
Scientists conducted the study in Nicaragua, looking into those affected by the 2016 Zika epidemic in Managua. They studied a population of 3,700 children from ages 2-14.
The study revealed that a larger number of people infected by the Zika disease in Managua were children, especially young girls. Although, they also found that if individuals had Dengue before the epidemic, they had a decreased risk of developing Zika symptoms. They are 38 percent less likely to experience Zika symptoms.
Results of the study don’t mean that dengue prevents children from getting Zika virus. What it did show is that dengue could prevent a child from experiencing symptoms. A previous infection of the one similar virus meant the child was less likely to get sick from Zika.
These findings do show promise for not just a dengue immunity, but Zika as well. It’s possible that preexisting antibodies from dengue could be neutralizing the Zika virus.
Another interesting result from the study offers a further connection between the two viruses. Researchers found a dramatic decrease in dengue cases during and right after the Zika epidemic.
More research will need to be done to verify these findings and what it could mean for immunity and public safety.
Having a prior dengue infection may be promising to not experience Zika symptoms, but dengue is still a dangerous disease. Dengue fever can become deadly, especially if an individual has had a prior dengue infection. Prior infection can sometimes make another bout with dengue afterwards become more severe.
If you are traveling to an area where you are at risk of dengue or Zika (any tropical or subtropical area), try these precautions to stay safe:
- Always wear insect repellent
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants in high-risk areas
- Wear layers if possible
- Sleep in an air-conditioned and contained room. If that is not possible, make sure you have mosquito netting around your bed.
Written for Passport Health by Kaitlyn Luckow. Kaitlyn is a freelance writer, photographer and English teacher in Milwaukee. She has a passion for capturing and writing other people’s stories. You can find her at sayhellostory.com.