New Features of Yellow Fever Discovered
Yellow fever has affected humankind for centuries, but in the past couple of years, recent research has begun to shed light on specific features of the disease. New findings, it is hoped, will make it easier to detect and treat yellow fever, which affects around 200,000 people throughout the world each year (mainly in Sub Saharan Africa, but also throughout Latin America).
Californian based studies pinpoint the effect of the yellow fever virus on white blood cells. In late 2014, a lab located in California discovered that, when affected by the yellow fever virus, the human body experiences a significant fall in its number of lymphocytes (i.e. white blood cells). Lymphocytes are a vital aspect of the body's immune system because they are responsible for the production of antibodies, and so it quickly became clear to researchers that the yellow fever virus operates by suppressing the immune system. As such, this understanding is supposed to make it easier for them to develop more effective treatments for the disease; stimulating the production of lymphocytes might actually help the body stop yellow fever in its tracks when a non vaccinated person becomes infected.
Two of the researchers who worked on this project, namely Messaoudi and Slifka, have stated that they were surprised to discover just how wide-ranging the effect of yellow fever is on the body. They estimated that around 800 genes can be affected by the virus when a person is infected. To put this in perspective, the human genome contains around 19,000 to 20,000 genes, and scientists discovered that the yellow fever virus can affect between 3% and 4% of those, which is not an insubstantial amount. As such, it is vital to find new ways to combat the virus.
These new findings could make it much easier to stop the spread of yellow fever in human populations, and also to prevent deaths from the disease. There is a widely available vaccine against yellow fever; however, it is not recommended for babies, pregnant women, elderly people and a whole host of other people who may be vulnerable to the flu-like side effects that can result from this vaccine. Medical experts believe it could be the case that a cure that focuses on stimulating the production of lymphocytes in an infected person, or in making lymphocytes resistant to the virus, could provide a solution that is much safer than vaccination for those more vulnerable members of the population.