Confirmed cases of the mosquito-borne illness Chikungunya continue to rise. As more cases pop up, lab techs in the Triangle are doing what they can to reduce the virus with a vaccine.
The Centers for Disease Control reports seven cases of the virus in North Carolina.
Currently there is no vaccine for the virus, but that's changing.
"You only need one bite from an infected mosquito to give you a disease," said Malcolm Thomas, President and CEO of Arbovax.
Thomas works with the company that's created a vaccine he calls promising. For now, the cases come from travelers who have been bitten in other countries, but the virus could get into mosquitoes in the states.
"The mosquitoes that transmit dengue and Chikungunya are endemic in 31 U.S. states," Thomas said. "It's just not infected, so it's not difficult to realize how, if you get some infected people, that you will get a whole new infection cycle in the U.S."
In the Raleigh lab, with help from N.C. State and support from the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, research associates work with controlled versions of the virus to develop a vaccine.
"What we basically do is interrupt the life cycle of these viruses so they can grow fairly normal in insects but they can't grow in mammals," said Thomas.
The goal is to reduce the disease by 80 percent or more.
"Once we knew that exact sequence is, we were able to get a good Chikungunya vaccine within a month," Thomas said. "So all future vaccines we work on will move much faster."
Thomas and his workers have met with the FDA and they plan to have the vaccine available next year. In the meantime, Thomas advises people to do what they can to keep from being bitten by these bloodsuckers through protective clothing and repellant.