In northwestern Australia, the flavivirus Murray Valley encephalitis (MVE) poses a significant health risk to infants in some aboriginal communities, particularly during each wet season. While there are too few cases to warrant the development of a vaccine against MVE, a safe, effective prophylaxis for these children is still urgently required. The use of passive transfer of human gamma globulin to MVE or immunisation with a vaccine to the closely related Japanese encephalitis (JE) virus were investigated as potential strategies. When 40 microg of IgG was purified from MVE-immune human sera and transferred to 3-week-old mice, the animals were protected from lethal IP inoculation with MVE virus while still producing a detectable immune response to the virus. Similarly, sera from adult mice infected sublethally with MVE or JE virus provided significant protection against MVE infection. However, sera from mice sublethally infected with the related Kunjin or immunised with the inactivated JE vaccine (Biken) provided no protection against MVE challenge. In fact, mice immunised passively with the latter appeared to succumb to MVE challenge more rapidly than mice that received serum from unimmunised animals, suggesting that antibody to the vaccine had accelerated the progression of disease. These preliminary trials in mice indicate that passive immunisation with human gamma globulin has the greatest potential as a strategy for MVE prophylaxis, whilst the apparent enhancement of MVE by antibodies to the JE vaccine requires further investigation, with particular reference to current vaccination programs in areas of Australia and Papua New Guinea, where both JE and MVE occur.
Copyright 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.