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Good news on tropical disease fight

SCIENTISTS say humankind is on the cusp of developing vaccines to control many tropical infectious diseases – lifting much of the burden of disease in developing countries and alleviating the spread of infections caused by global travel and climate change.

Saparna Pai, a Research Fellow at James Cook University’s Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine, led the publication of a recent article in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases assessing vaccines against tropical infectious diseases.

She said while drugs have been widely used to treat infectious diseases, they carry a constant threat of producing drug-resistant pathogens. 

“Vaccines, on the other hand, offer a promising means by which to enhance the global control of tropical infectious diseases, but these have been difficult to develop, mostly due to the complex nature of pathogen lifecycles,” said Dr Pai. 

The team looked at the progress being made in developing a vaccine against five diseases – dengue fever, parasitic hookworms, Plasmodium vivax malaria, schistosomiasis (blood fluke) and typhoid fever.

Dr Pai said these diseases represent a burden of billions of dollars annually to developing economies and hardship for sufferers and their families. 

“There is also a growing problem where increased global travel and trade, combined with deforestation and climate change, have altered pathogen transmission patterns, causing geographical spread and re-emergence of tropical infectious diseases.”

She said there are good reasons to be optimistic.

JCU’s Dr Maria Eugenia Castellanos said two new dengue vaccines are in advanced stages of testing. 

“And the recent first-ever human trial of a live hookworm vaccine proved promising,” said Dr Castellanos.

“With typhoid, it’s tempting to speculate that a global roll-out of typhoid conjugate vaccines could lead to widespread herd immunity and potentially even mark the end of the threat worldwide,” she said.

Dr Pai said billions of people worldwide are currently infected with parasitic worms, with no vaccines that can protect against infection. 

“But outstanding results in recent clinical trials provide hope that vaccines against the debilitating hookworm parasite may be available in coming years.”

The paper was co-authored by Ms Tammy Allen, Dr Paul Giacomin, Prof. Nadira D Karunaweera, A/Prof Andreas Kupz, Mr Juan Carlos LoL, Prof. Dileep Sharma, Dr Suchandan Sikder, Dr Bemnet Tedla, Dr Liza van Eijk, Dr Danica Vojisavljevic and Dr Guangzu Zhao.

The authors said vaccines are just one tool in the suite of management strategies to break the cycle of infection and prevent disease, but it looks like exciting times lie ahead. 

“It seems we are on the cusp of developing new drugs that will decrease the socioeconomic burden of these diseases and make life measurably better for literally billions of people,” said Dr Pai. 

Link to paper here.

Keep up with the latest news in Cairns and the Far North, and check out some of our top stories this week: NSW Police to march at Mardi Gras out of uniform and Manoora boys charged with offences.

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