The Zika virus is no longer considered an international health emergency for the moment, according to the World Health Organization. But officials are making clear that the virus, which can cause rare birth defects and other neurological disorders, still poses a global health threat.
Zika has spread to some 60 countries and territories since an outbreak was first identified last year in Brazil. Myanmar is the latest to face the threat — its first Zika-infected patient was identified over two weeks ago, prompting pledges of increased monitoring and stepped up mosquito-prevention measures.
But a resurgence of Zika may not be the only mosquito-borne illness we need to watch for next year. A case of illness due to the Mayaro virus was recently reported in Haiti for the first time. Some scientists have referred to Mayaro as “the next Zika.” Others believe the comparison is alarmist.
“Mayaro virus is a mosquito-borne infection that circulates in South America — it is in the same group of viruses as chikungunya and causes short-lived symptoms of fevers and muscle and joint aches,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior associate professor and clinical assistant professor at the Center for Health Security at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
Mayaro can be spread by Aedes mosquitoes, the same ones that spread Zika, as well as another species (Haemagogus), Adalja told LifeZette. In the wild, it infects lower primates.
“The case of a child in Haiti with no travel history suggests Mayaro also circulates in the Caribbean,” said infectious disease expert Dr. Meghan May of the University of New England College of Medicine. “It isn’t surprising to me [that] it would have been circulating undetected potentially for a long time, because it is so easily confused with both chikungunya disease and dengue fever. As far as we know, the long-term effect of Mayaro virus that’s most concerning is that of chronic pain. Bone and joint pain persists long past infection for some patients, and it can be quite debilitating.”
The authors of a recent study on Mayaro wrote that they do not know yet if Mayaro has epidemic potential. But Adalja said Americans should expect that as diagnostic capacity increases, there will be many more reports of emerging infectious diseases, including those that are mosquito-borne.
“As humans increasingly interact with many species of mosquitoes, it will not be surprising to see more cases of Mayaro and related infections. In order to guard against these diseases, we must be very aggressive with mosquito control and use all tools at our hands — including genetically modified mosquitoes.”