Ross River virus tricks immune system

With Ross River virus infecting an increasing number of Australians each year (5000-7000 cases), researchers have discovered how it tricks our body’s defences.

New research conducted by Dr Surendran Mahalingam and Dr Brett Lidbury firstly at the University of Canberra and now at the John Curtin School of Medical Research (Australian National University) has found that the Ross River virus has developed an ingenious strategy for avoiding the body’s natural immune system.

“The virus appears to use our own immune response to defeat the antiviral action of our body’s cells,” said Dr Mahalingam.

Infection from Ross River virus can result in debilitating arthritis and other symptoms (such as muscle ache and lethargy), sometimes recurring over many years.  How the virus causes these symptoms is still not well understood.

Researchers were surprised to find that the Ross River virus had a better chance of withstanding immune responses if there were low levels of antibodies present. This may be a clue to how the virus operates in the human body.

“The Ross River virus could use these antibodies to get into the body’s immune cells and sabotage their beneficial antiviral actions from deep within each cell’s molecular machinery,” Dr Lidbury said.

“This means people are possibly more susceptible to a Ross River virus infection if they have already been exposed to the virus and have developed some antibodies against it.”

These findings will help researchers identify possible ways of stopping the growth of the Ross River virus.

The researchers believe this discovery with the Ross River Virus may also have implications to other disease-causing viruses such as HIV, respiratory viruses and the virus that causes dengue fever.

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