25 Jun 2016

How itching boosts viruses

From This Way Up, 12:55 pm on 25 June 2016
Immunity Cover

Immunity Cover Photo: (Steven Bryden)

The inflammation that makes you want to scratch a mosquito bite also dramatically boosts the infection rate for viruses like dengue fever, the Ross River virus and Zika.

Marieke Pingen and her colleagues at the University of Leeds are examining how viruses are hijacking our immune systems to replicate and cause disease. They publish their findings in the journal Immunity this week.

The research shows how a mosquito's saliva triggers an inflammatory response that attracts a range of cell types to the bite site. Incoming immune cells are particularly prone to infection, and the physical swelling of the tissue around the bite also also helps the virus gain a foot-hold and then spread.

The research suggests that blocking the inflammatory response at the bite site could lead to a new way to control mosquito-spread infection.

"We tested two very different types of virus, which work in very different ways, and got the same result. So we think that this might point to a new way to block mosquito-borne illness." Researcher Clive McKimmie