Malaysia testing dengue vaccine as deaths surge

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Malaysian health authorities announced on Wednesday that they were testing a dengue vaccine in a bid to combat the disease which has seen death rate jumped more than 60 percent this year.

At present there is no treatment or vaccine for the mosquito-borne disease, which has killed 128 people this year in Malaysia alone, compared to 78 deaths during the same period a year ago.

Malaysian health authorities said they started clinical trials involving some 300 volunteers in the middle of the year and would carry out further trials from December.

"If these studies are successful, we hope the vaccine can be made available to the Malaysian people in the next few years," health ministry director general Ismail Merican said in a statement.

"A dengue vaccine is the ultimate next step in the prevention of dengue fever," said the top health official, who described the trials as the "latest breakthrough".

Malaysia is working with Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccines division of French drugmaker Sanofi-Aventis, to develop the vaccine.

Nearly 43,500 dengue fever cases have been reported in Malaysia this year, and the public is being urged to take action to eradicate the Aedes aegypti mosquito -- which spreads dengue -- from homes and workplaces.

Malaysia is also planning to conduct a controversial field trial by releasing genetically-modified mosquitoes -- the first experiment of its kind in Asia.

The virus has historically been found in tropical regions, particularly in urban and semi-urban areas, but has spread in recent years to colder and higher places and is now endemic in more than 100 countries.

© 2010 AFP

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