Dengue fever antibodies can prevent and even neutralize coronavirus infection, according to new research published on September 21.
A team of scientists, led by the renowned Professor of Neuroscience at the Duke University School of Medicine, Miguel Nicolelis, compared the geographical distribution of COVID-19 cases to the spread of dengue in 2019 and 2020 in Brazil.
It turned out that areas with lower rates of coronavirus infection and slower case growth were places that had experienced severe dengue outbreaks this year or in the past.
“This striking finding raises the intriguing possibility of an immunological cross-reactivity between dengue’s Flavivirus serotypes and SARS-CoV-2,” the authors wrote in their study, referring to antibodies against dengue and the coronavirus.
If proven correct, this hypothesis could mean that dengue infection or immunization with an efficacious and safe dengue vaccine could produce some level of immunological protection’ against the coronavirus.
Previous studies have shown that people with dengue antibodies in their blood can test false positive for COVID-19 antibodies even if they have never been infected with the coronavirus.
“This indicates that there is an immunological interaction between two viruses that nobody could have expected, because the two viruses are from completely different families,” said Nicolelis cited by DailyMail.
However, he added that more studies are needed to prove the connection.
The study was published on MedRxiv and will be submitted to a scientific journal.
It highlights a significant correlation between the lower incidence, mortality and growth rate of COVID-19 in populations in Brazil where dengue antibody levels were higher.
In states such as Paraná, Santa Catarina, Rio Grande do Sul, Mato Grosso do Sul and Minas Gerais – with a high incidence of dengue last year and early this year – COVID-19 took much longer to reach a level of high transmission compared to states like Amapá, Maranhão and Pará, which had fewer dengue cases.
Nicolelis’s team found a similar relationship between dengue outbreaks and a slower spread of COVID-19 in other parts of Latin America, as well as in Asia and islands in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
Nicolelis said his team encountered the discovery of dengue by accident, during a study focusing on how COVID-19 had spread throughout Brazil, in which they discovered that roads played an important role in the distribution of cases across the country.
After identifying certain case-free spots on the map, the team searched for possible explanations.
A breakthrough came when the team compared the spread of dengue to the coronavirus.
“It was a shock. It was a total accident. In science, that happens, you’re shooting at one thing and you hit a target that you never imagined you would hit,” laughs the scientist.