Australian scientists believe they may have discovered the possibility of relief for those suffering with the debilitating arthritis triggered by viral infections such as Ross River fever.
A team of virologists at the University of Canberra say they have identified the cell and proteins responsible for causing the joint inflammation and tissue damage brought on by viruses like Ross River, HIV, Dengue and influenza.
The new research carried out in mice by Professor Suresh Mahalingam and his colleagues shows the the immune cells, called macrophages, release toxic proteins which cause the damage but a drug currently available for another disease can provide relief.
Professor Mahalingam says the anti-inflammatory drug, called sulfasalazine which is used for treating many other inflammatory diseases, such as Crohn's disease, was to ameliorate arthritic symptoms in mice infected with the virus.
Professor Mahalingam says while the treatment will not remove the risk of contracting the virus, the treatment could greatly reduce its severity and the breakthrough is important because of the large and growing number of people contracting Ross River virus.
Ross River fever is the most common mosquito-borne disease in Australia and is closely linked to the viral disease Chikungunya.
Alphaviruses, such as Chikungunya virus and Ross River virus are associated with outbreaks of infectious rheumatic disease in humans worldwide.
Professor Mahalingam says in the past three years, there has been a massive outbreak of this virus in Asia as well as Europe, with six million cases in India, more than 300,000 people in the western Indian Ocean and about 200 cases in Italy.
As a result, says the professor, how these groups of viruses actually cause disease is of global interest.
Professor Mahalingam says should the macrophages prove to play the same role in other diseases, in triggering arthritic inflammation, the results could have wide-ranging implications, because a number of viral illnesses such as rubella, hepatitis, dengue fever and HIV, can also lead to arthritis.
The research is published in the current issue of the Journal of Infectious Diseases.