Research on emergent eastern equine encephalitis virus in Darien, Panama in collaboration with the Gorgas Memorial Institute (GMI), Panama.
- South American eastern equine encephalitis virus (family Togaviridae, genus Alphavirus) typically does not cause disease in humans. In 2010, however, there was an outbreak in the Darien that affected primarily children. This virus has been known to circulate in animals in Panama for years. Why has it emerged in humans now? What is its transmission cycle? What role do deforestation and migration play in the transmission of this virus? The closely related Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus is endemic in the region; how does immunity to this virus influence the susceptibility to eastern equine encephalitis? These are the questions we are trying to answer.
We have been searching for the enzootic host of this virus, and have initial possible candidates based on field research of small mammals conducted by Dr. Blas Armien at GMI. In addition, we are defining the contribution of land use and land cover to the prevalence of eastern equine encephalitis and Venezuelan equine encephalitis in humans and animals. In the spring of 2015, we anticipate conducting mosquito vector studies and blood meal analyses to further define possible enzootic hosts. Concurrently, we are planning a field study to follow seroconversion rates in humans and to study immunological interactions between the two alphaviruses.