Florida researchers have discovered a mosquito-borne virus called Mayaro in Haiti, where it had never been observed before.The virus was detected in a blood sample of an 8-year-old boy in January 2015 who had tested negative for other mosquito-borne illnesses, including Chikungunya and Dengue.
Similarly to Zika, little is known about Mayaro but it is known that it is transmitted by that same Aedes aegypti mosquito that carries Zika, Dengue, Yellow fever and Chikungunya.
Mayaro was first isolated in Trinidad and Tobago in 1954, and since then roughly 40 cases have been studied in South America, where it was confined to, by U.S. researchers. The worst outbreak was recorded in Venezuela in 2000, but has also been previously detected in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Guyana, and Surinam. Robert Tesh, the professor of pathology at the Institute for Human Infections and Immunity at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston who carried out these studies explains that it shows up most often in Brazil near the Amazon, where it is spread by a tree-dwelling species of mosquito that feeds mostly on monkeys.
Symptoms of the illness are very similar to its similar partner the Chikungunya virus, and include chills, malaise, headache, stomach pains and joint pains. Researchers do not know how widespread the infection could be or whether it will appear in other parts of the Caribbean, but the specific strain identified is different from those previously seen in the Amazon, where most cases of Mayaro have historically been reported.
Confirming at least one more case in or near Haiti will also be essential to assess the threat, says Tesh, whose research on Mayaro includes a 1999 study of 27 cases in South America. Because Mayaro is usually associated with a type of mosquito that likely doesn't live in Haiti, he says, it's possible that lab contamination produced a false result. It's also possible that other species of mosquitoes that live in Haiti are starting to carry the virus.
If the virus is in Haiti, it could have more opportunities to spread as the mosquito population is sure to proliferate in standing water left behind by Hurricane Matthew.
"To find a single case is kind of curious," Tesh states. "I would keep an eye on it. If we get another from Haiti or the Dominican Republic, then OK, maybe we should get concerned."