The world is facing a variety of viral infections of high pathogenic potential. These are either novel or formerly only endemic in specific areas of the world. It is intrinsic to such emerging diseases that actions to prevent and fight them must be taken while the number of infections is still relatively low and geographically restricted. Therefore, research efforts are required well before large outbreaks occur. In addition, effective surveillance networks for a given emerging disease must be established in time. Only with tools for treatment and control (such as vaccines) it will be possible to avoid major uncontrolled outbreaks. This project aims at the development of these tools for the control and prevention of one of the most threatening vector-borne emerging diseases, West Nile Fever, caused by West Nile Virus (WNV), which has recently spread through North America and is becoming a serious threat in Europe. Although the viral strains are similar in America and Europe, different conditions for a WNV epidemic have to be taken into account, like insect vectors, reservoir hosts (birds) and their endemic virus populations plus specialities of European climate and geography. To make a significant impact in the enhancement of Europe┬┤s preparedness to WNV, the project consortium has defined three major scientific and technical objectives.

Development of a specific diagnostic test

The protein components of WNV are very similar to other flaviviruses, such as Japanese Encephalitis Virus, Tick-borne Encephalitis Virus or Yellow Fever Virus. Therefore, antibodies produced upon an infection with WNV show a substantial degree of cross-reactivity to antigens from related viruses, which complicates a specific serologic diagnosis. The WINGS project is looking for antigens in structural and non-structural proteins of WNV that allow a specific diagnosis of the virus.

Vaccine development

To date, there is no vaccine to protect humans from an infection with WNV. Scientists of the WINGS consortium are using several different innovative techniques of antigen design, vaccine delivery and adjuvants to develop vaccine candidates for the efficient and long lasting protection of human against WNV. The immunization strategies will be rapidly adaptable to newly emerging WNV strains.

Epidemiology of WNV in Europe

The epidemiologic situation of WNV in Europe is changing quickly. Novel strains (of both major WNV lineages) are detected now every year, with numerous cases of severe neurological symptoms among humans. Research on these novel WNV isolates as well as close collaboration of the WINGS consortium with national and international surveillance agencies helps to understand the spreading of WNV throughout Europe.


Detection and protection [PDF 3MB]
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