The Food and Drug Adminstration (FDA) approved the first vaccine for the mosquito-born illness chikungunya on Thursday, a key step in fighting the dangerous virus.
Chikungunya virus infects more than 300,000 people per year globally, the FDA said, mostly in the global south. The virus has recently become more prevalent in the north, however, leading to FDA approval of the new vaccine.
“Infection with chikungunya virus can lead to severe disease and prolonged health problems, particularly for older adults and individuals with underlying medical conditions,” Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said in a statement.
“Today’s approval addresses an unmet medical need and is an important advancement in the prevention of a potentially debilitating disease with limited treatment options,” he added.
Common symptoms of the virus include fever and joint pains. About 28 Americans get the disease per year, but 81 cases were reported last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
The new vaccine, Ixchiq, will be available for vulnerable populations of adults like those who have recently traveled to places with infected mosquito populations and those with predisposed risks.
The virus is one of many which face an increased risk to American and Europeans due to climate change, the European Union warned in June. As global temperatures rise, disease-ridden mosquitos become more common farther north and pose a threat to more people.
“In recent years we have seen a geographical spread of invasive mosquito species to previously unaffected areas in [Europe],” European Centers for Disease Control Director Andrea Ammon said in a statement. “If this continues, we can expect to see more cases and possibly deaths from diseases such as dengue, chikungunya and West Nile fever.”
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