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article imageIs another mosquito-borne virus emerging in the Caribbean?

By Karen Graham     Sep 18, 2016 in Health
Researchers from the University of Florida have identified a patient with a serious mosquito-borne virus never before seen in Haiti. Called the Mayaro virus, there is concern over it becoming a new and emerging disease in the Caribbean region.
The Mayaro virus was found in a blood sample from an eight-year-old schoolboy living in rural Haiti in January 2015. The child had a fever and abdominal pain but no rash or conjunctivitis.
Doctors and researchers from the University of Florida (UF) Emerging Pathogens Institute (EPI) had been in Haiti before and after the 2014 chikungunya outbreak, collecting blood samples from children who had symptoms of the disease and the sample collected in January was thought to be a chikungunya case.
Researchers were studying chikungunya virus RNA using a genetic identification technique known as reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction. The Jan. 2015 blood sample contained Dengue virus and a "new" virus that was later identified as Mayaro.
The Mayaro virus is in the family Togaviridae and genus Alphavirus. It was first isolated in Trinidad in 1954 but most reported cases have been confined to small isolated outbreaks in the Amazon.
The identification of the mosquito-borne Mayaro virus in a patient in Haiti is of special concern to epidemiologists because this case could be the first evidence of another emerging mosquito-borne virus disease outbreak in the Caribbean region.
Dr. John Lednicky, a UF associate professor in the environmental and global health department of the College of Public Health and Health Professions, says the Mayaro virus causes Dengue-like symptoms similar to chikungunya, with fever, joint and muscle pain, rashes and abdominal pain, with the joint pain seemingly lasting much longer.
Dr. Lednicky says it will be difficult to tell if the new virus is going to become widespread in Haiti because the Zika virus has been difficult to track due to the country’s weak health system.
“We would like to do a lot more but our hands are quite tied,” Dr. Lednicky told the Miami Herald. “We would really like to help in Haiti... and look into which mosquitoes are carrying this virus.”
Another important finding is that the virus found in Haiti is genetically different from the Mayaro viruses recently identified in Brazil. "We don’t know yet if it is unique to Haiti or if it is a recombinant strain from different types of Mayaro viruses,” he said.
Senior study investigator Glenn Morris, M.D., director of the EPI was quoted by GenEngNews.com: "Hopefully we will not see the same massive epidemics that we saw with chikungunya, dengue, and now Zika. However, these findings underscore the fact that there are additional viruses 'waiting in the wings' that may pose threats in the future, and for which we need to be watching."
The team's findings are in a new report published online on August 28, 20016, in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases in an article entitled “Mayaro Virus in Child with Acute Febrile Illness, Haiti, 2015.”
More about mayara virus, haiti patient, mosquitoborne virus, confined to Amazon, denguelike illness
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