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 Dr. Vittor and collaborators are trying to answer.
Dr. Vittor has been searching for the enzootic host of this virus, and has initial possible candidates based on field research of small mammals conducted by Dr. Blas Armien at GMI. In addition, they 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. Together with Dr. Nathan Burkett-Cadena and postdoctoral researcher, Dr. Erik Blosser, Dr. Vittor and postdoctoral researcher Dr. Karoun Bagamian recently conducted mosquito vector studies and blood meal analyses to further define possible enzootic hosts. Together with Panamanian researcher Jean Paul Carrera, she is planning to follow seroconversion rates in humans and to study immunological interactions between the two alphaviruses.
Amy Y. Vittor, MD, PhD
Assistant Professor of Medicine