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Scientists show that tick-borne flaviviruses use a novel mechanism to evade host defenses

Researchers from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, have made the surprising discovery that flaviviruses, which cause such serious diseases as West Nile fever, yellow fever and forms of encephalitis, evade immune system defenses in different ways depending on whether they are transmitted by mosquitoes or ticks. This finding could lead to new approaches to developing vaccines and treatments against these illnesses.

"Flaviviruses exact an enormous toll in terms of illness and death worldwide," notes NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. "Because this is a relatively new field of study, everything we learn about how these viruses operate is significant. This elegant work opens an array of new questions and research opportunities to pursue as we strive to better understand this family of viruses and develop countermeasures against them."

Mosquito-borne flaviviruses include West Nile virus, yellow fever virus, dengue virus and Japanese encephalitis virus; the less-familiar tick-borne flaviviruses are just as serious, causing tick-borne encephalitis or hemorrhagic fevers. Currently, a Japanese encephalitis outbreak is raging in India and Nepal and has killed more than 1,000 people. In Europe and Southeast Asia, tick-borne encephalitis typically results in more than 10,000 patient visits to hospitals annually and has a fatality rate of up to 25 percent in some regions. Viruses that cause encephalitis lead to inflammation of the brain. Hemorrhagic fevers are viral infections that cause capillaries to burst, leading to unusual bleeding on or under the skin or in various organs.

The study released this week online in the Journal of Virology describes how a single virus protein--NS5--from the tick-borne Langat flavivirus counteracts the natural ability of interferon to combat the virus. Langat virus was originally isolated in the 1950s in Malaysia and Thailand. Langat virus can i
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Contact: Ken Pekoc
kpekoc@niaid.nih.gov
406-375-9690
NIH/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
28-Sep-2005


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