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September 21, 2016: Is Another Zika Brewing in the Caribbean?

Florida researchers have discovered a mosquito-borne virus called Mayaro in Haiti, where it had never been observed before.

“They found the virus in a blood sample taken in January 2015 from an 8-year-old boy who had tested negative for other mosquito-borne illnesses, including chikungunya and dengue. Researchers don’t know yet how widespread the infection could be or whether they will find it in other parts of the Caribbean, but the specific strain they identified is different from those previously seen in the Amazon, where most cases of Mayaro have historically been reported.

“Dr. Glenn Morris, director of the University of Florida’s Emerging Pathogens Institute, which identified the virus, says the findings underscore how additional viruses are ‘waiting in the wings’ and may pose future threats.

“Researchers who discovered Mayaro in Haiti had been studying the country’s chikungynya outbreak. When blood samples tested negative they aimed to discover whether other ailments were present. Their findings were published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, which is run by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Mayaro’s symptoms, which include fever and joint pain, are similar to chikunguya, but Dr. John Lednicky, a University of Florida associate professor in the environmental and global health department of the College of Public Health Professions, says joint pain from Mayaro can last for as long as year, and that people who are infected tend to have stomach problems.

“’The joint pain can be debilitating in day-to-day activities, even making walking around difficult,’ Lednicky says.

“The finding occurred as most attention has been centered on on Zika, a virus primarily spread through mosquitoes that is particularly dangerous to pregnant women, who risk giving birth to babies with the birth defect microcephaly, characterized by abnormally small heads.

As with Zika, little is known about Mayaro. It was first isolated in Trinidad and Tobago in 1954, and since then roughly 40 cases have been studied in South America by U.S. researchers. A couple of people have returned to the U.S. after traveling to parts of the world where the virus was circulating, including in eastern Peru. In 2011, a Swiss tourist who visited Peru was diagnosed with the virus after he returned home.

“Lednicky’s team was the first to identify the spread of Zika in Brazil, and later to discover its presence in spit and urine.

“It isn’t known yet whether – like Zika – Mayaro can be transmitted sexually. Researchers also don’t yet know whether the boy got Mayaro through the same type of mosquito, called Aedes aegypti, that has been linked to the Zika virus. Lednicky says studying Mayaro in Haiti will be difficult because it has only been discovered there once so far, but that lessons learned from Zika will help inform his team’s approach.

“He says that when he announced the discovery of Zika in Brazil, few were paying attention and he had difficulty getting funding for additional research.

“’Everyone was telling us we found an obscure virus that was of no interest to anybody,’ he says. ‘With Mayaro it’ll probably be the same thing.’

“Since then, Zika has spread rapidly, infecting more than 20,000 people in the U.S. and its territories. Congress has not allocated emergency funding to prevent and treat the Zika virus, though it is now working on doing so through a spending bill.

“‘We could have been so far ahead if we’d had access to research funds,’ Lednicky says.”

Source: US News

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