Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Dengue patients
from WWII sought

A UH researcher is gathering data
to try to develop a vaccine

Residents who had dengue fever during an epidemic here in 1943-44 could provide valuable information to researchers, possibly leading to vaccines to prevent the illness.

Dr. Allison Imrie, University of Hawaii assistant professor, wants to identify and study original dengue fever cases. "Vaccine design is the big picture for this," she said.

Imrie, with the Department of Public Health Sciences & Epidemiology, John A. Burns School of Medicine, and Pacific Biomedical Research Center, is trying to find former dengue fever cases named in Territorial Board of Health records from 1943 to 1944.

But it's difficult to trace them after 60 years, she said. "If people remember being infected, we'd like to hear from them."

All they have to do for the study is to discuss their experience of dengue virus with a researcher and provide a blood sample for analysis.

Imrie has 16 Oahu volunteers enrolled in the project from Hawaii's second major dengue epidemic in 2001-2002.

Having data from the early cases is important to examine their immune response to the disease and how long it continued, she said.

The textbooks say someone infected with dengue, spread by mosquito bites, is supposed to have lifelong immunity from the same virus, she pointed out. However, there are four distinct dengue viruses, and they could be infected by one of the other types, she said.

The two major Hawaii outbreaks were Dengue 1.

DEN-1 was isolated from soldiers in Hawaii in 1944 by Dr. Albert Sabin, then in the military service here, Imrie said. Dengue-like illnesses then were called "breakbone fever" because of severe joint pain, she noted.

Sabin, developer of polio vaccine, also isolated the second dengue virus, DEN-2.

DEN-1 affected thousands of people during World War II in the Pacific and Hawaii. There were a lot of cases on Oahu, especially in the Waikiki and Kakaako areas, Imrie said.

The same DEN-1 virus was identified in the Pacific epidemic in 2001-2002, with 119 confirmed cases in Hawaii. But a comparison of the molecular structure of the virus in the cases showed one strain was Tahitian and the other Samoan, Imrie said.

She is particularly interested in recruiting Pacific Islanders for the studies, as responses to the infection may be related to ethnicity and evolve in geographic populations.

For more information or to volunteer for the study, call her at 956-5522 or e-mail imrie@pbrc.hawaii.edu.

Pacific Biomedical Research Center
UH John A. Burns School of Medicine

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