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Previously, Rico-Hesse and her colleagues have seen that this type of mouse develops more severe symptoms of dengue fever after being bitten by mosquitoes than when the researchers injected the virus with a needle. This happens because our bodies have an allergic reaction to mosquito saliva (the reason we get those itchy red bumps).
“The virus present in that mosquito’s saliva, it’s like a Trojan horse,” Manning says. “Your body is distracted by the saliva [and] having an allergic reaction when really it should be having an antiviral reaction and fighting against the virus.” Thus, the immune system does not attack the virus as fiercely as it needs to. On top of this, the saliva attracts immune cells that are susceptible to the germ. “Your body is unwittingly helping the virus establish infection because your immune system is sending in new waves of cells that this virus is able to infect,” Manning says.
Time - Rico-Hesse - Team - Mice - Spit
This time around, Rico-Hesse and her team exposed mice to mosquito spit without any trace of dengue. They discovered that the immune response to mosquito saliva lasts longer and ropes in more different types of cells than had previously been suspected, including ones from the bone marrow. Seven days after the mice had encountered mosquitoes, the team detected these immune cells traveling to the site of the bite. Since immune cells also migrate back to the marrow, it may become a reservoir for any viruses that happen to be lurking in mosquito saliva, Rico-Hesse speculates.
“We had no idea that saliva was doing all these things to make [the body] a better replication ground for the viruses or parasites,” she says. “Mosquito saliva has evolved to modify our entire immune system and it’s basically setting it up for pathogens to replicate easier and to cause more disease.”
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