Background: Nearly half of the world's population is at risk for dengue, yet no licensed vaccine or anti-viral drug is currently available. Dengue is caused by any of four dengue virus serotypes (DENV-1 through DENV-4), and infection by a DENV serotype is assumed to provide life-long protection against re-infection by that serotype. We investigated the validity of this fundamental assumption during a large dengue epidemic caused by DENV-2 in Iquitos, Peru, in 2010-2011, 15 years after the first outbreak of DENV-2 in the region.
Methodology/principal findings: We estimated the age-dependent prevalence of serotype-specific DENV antibodies from longitudinal cohort studies conducted between 1993 and 2010. During the 2010-2011 epidemic, active dengue cases were identified through active community- and clinic-based febrile surveillance studies, and acute inapparent DENV infections were identified through contact tracing studies. Based on the age-specific prevalence of DENV-2 neutralizing antibodies, the age distribution of DENV-2 cases was markedly older than expected. Homologous protection was estimated at 35.1% (95% confidence interval: 0%-65.2%). At the individual level, pre-existing DENV-2 antibodies were associated with an incomplete reduction in the frequency of symptoms. Among dengue cases, 43% (26/66) exhibited elevated DENV-2 neutralizing antibody titers for years prior to infection, compared with 76% (13/17) of inapparent infections (age-adjusted odds ratio: 4.2; 95% confidence interval: 1.1-17.7).
Conclusions/significance: Our data indicate that protection from homologous DENV re-infection may be incomplete in some circumstances, which provides context for the limited vaccine efficacy against DENV-2 in recent trials. Further studies are warranted to confirm this phenomenon and to evaluate the potential role of incomplete homologous protection in DENV transmission dynamics.