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European Biopharmaceutical Review

Finding the Signal Among the Noise – The Challenges of Flavivirus Serology

Flaviviruses are a genus of positive-sense RNA viruses, predominantly transmitted by mosquito and tick vectors. Named after yellow fever (flavus meaning yellow in Latin), the flaviviruses are a highly diverse taxonomic group that includes yellow fever, dengue, Zika, West Nile, Japanese encephalitis, and tick-borne encephalitis viruses, to name just a few.

Flaviviruses transmit through complex enzootic cycles, which include a range of animal, bird, and insect hosts, for which humans are often an incidental dead end. The human diseases that flaviviruses cause are equally diverse, often manifesting as mild flu-like symptoms, but also causing encephalitis, vascular shock, paralysis, congenital abnormalities, and death.

Due to 21st century factors such as climate change, population growth, and ecological disruption, the global distribution of flavivirus vectors is expanding rapidly (see Figure 1). As a direct result, the emergence of flaviviral diseases in recent decades has been remarkable: flaviviruses are endemic in the majority of countries, with dengue estimated to cause upwards of 400 million infections per year alone (1). What’s more, novel flaviviral pathogens are continuing to emerge with devastating effects – exemplified by the recent Zika epidemic in South America.

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James Shore
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