Inflammation Caused By Mosquito Bites Helps Viral Infections Spread Interview with:
Clive McKimmie PhD
Research Fellow,
Virus Host Interaction Team (VHIT),
University of Leeds
St James’ University Hospital
Leeds UK What is the background for this study?

Response: With the rapid spread of Zika in the Americas, attention has been drawn to this group of neglected mosquito-borne viral infections. The Zika virus is not alone in causing problems, others such as dengue and chikungunya viruses are infecting millions of people each year. Yet there’s little doctors can do to help people who get sick.
When mosquitoes bite you they can transmit these disease causing viruses. We don’t understand what happens during the early stages of infection very well. However, it is known that the mosquito bite itself somehow helps the virus to infect your body. What are the main findings?

Mosquito image - CDC - transmits Zika

Zika Mosquito CDC image

Response: The most important finding of our study is that inflammation caused by mosquito bites helps viruses to establish a successful infection.

We found that the body responds to the mosquito bite with inflammation in the skin. This inflammation benefits the virus, helping it to spread around the body, and increase the likelihood of illness. Thus, mosquito bites are not just annoying but they are key for the virus to cause disease.

When a mosquito bites you it triggers an immune response, in which immune cells rush to the site. These immune cells are normally responsible for defending the body against infection and repairing the damage done by biting insects. But instead of helping, some of these cells get infected and unintentionally replicate the virus.

We showed that if you can suppress bite inflammation, the viruses struggle to replicate and spread properly. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: It is difficult to predict which mosquito-transmitted virus will cause the next epidemic, as there are so many of these viruses. It takes a lot of time and money to develop drugs or vaccines. Therefore it is hard for governments or companies to medicines against all these viruses separately. However, all these viruses have one thing in common: They start with a mosquito bite. We hope that we can dampen the inflammation at the bite site using e.g. an anti-inflammatory cream. Hopefully that might stop the virus from spreading through your body and thus causing disease. Ideally, we could fight many different viruses using a single cream this way. But of course it will take more research to determine if this is the case. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: There are also a lot of questions that remain answered. How does your body detect mosquito bites and the mosquito saliva? Which aspects of bite inflammation can be best targeted as a treatment? Do all viruses make use of bite inflammation to aid their replication?

We now want to look at whether medications such as anti-inflammatory creams can suppress bite inflammation. We predict this might stop the virus establishing an infection if used quickly enough after a bite appears. Aedes mosquitoes only bite during the day, so a bite is something people might notice and be able to treat.

We’re now hoping that this research could be the first step in using commonly available anti-inflammatory drugs to treat bite inflammation before any symptoms set in. What’s particularly exciting about this approach is that it could work against a variety of other mosquito transmitted viruses.

If you’re in an area with lots of disease-carrying mosquitoes, the best advice is not to get bitten in the first place. However, for those few mosquitoes that do makes it past your protection and bite you, it might be possible to use our new findings to block virus from causing disease. However, more laboratory-based research is needed before we start to offer any public health advise. Thank you for your contribution to the community.

Pingen et al. Host inflammatory response to mosquito bites enhances severity of arbovirus infection. Immunity, 2016 DOI:10.1016/j.immuni.2016.06.002

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

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Last Updated on June 22, 2016 by Marie Benz MD FAAD