Vaccinating against dengue fever could increase outbreaks of Zika, warns a study by a team of researchers from Canada and China.
As dengue and Zika are both part of the Flaviviridae family transmitted through a common mosquito host, the researchers wanted to know how vaccinating for one would affect the incidence of the other. “Vaccinating against one virus could not only affect the control of another virus, it could in fact make it easier for the other to spread,” said one of the researchers Jianhong Wu, Professor at York University in Toronto, Canada.
The research, published in the journal Scientific Reports, identifies a potentially serious public health concern. More than a third of the world’s population lives in areas where dengue is endemic and cases of co-infection with Zika have already been reported, according to the study.
“Recent evidence suggests that dengue virus antibodies can enhance the Zika virus infection. For that reason, we developed a new math model to investigate the effect of dengue vaccination on Zika outbreaks,” Wu said. The team’s model showed that vaccinations for dengue increase the number of people contracting Zika.
It also showed that the more people in a particular population that are vaccinated against dengue, the earlier and larger the Zika outbreak. The research also found that the most effective way to minimise the unintended effect of dengue vaccinations on Zika outbreaks is through an integrated strategy that includes mosquito control.
“We concluded that vaccination against dengue among humans can significantly boost Zika transmission among the population and hence call for further study on integrated control measures on controlling dengue and Zika outbreak,” Yanni Xiao, Professor at Xi’an Jiaotong University in China, said.
The researchers noted that their findings do not discourage the development and promotion of dengue vaccine products, however, more work needs to be done to understand how to optimise dengue vaccination programmes and minimise the risk of Zika outbreaks.
Although vaccines for dengue have been developed and are in use, there is currently no vaccine for Zika.