The next Zika? 4 viral contenders to watch

Virologists and epidemiologists are keeping an eye on four viruses transmitted by traveling insects that have the potential to trigger future outbreaks, according to the Scientific American.

While experts cannot be sure if these four viruses will become the next Zika or West Nile, they standout among the many illnesses discussed in scientific papers.

1. Mayaro: This virus clinically mirrors chikungunya and incites fever, chills, rash and joint pain. Chikungunya, like Mayaro, was originally transmitted in the forest, infecting people in locations like Amazonia. Now, chikungunya is transmitted in densely populated areas by urban mosquitoes like the Aedes aegypti. Laboratory evidence suggests Mayaro may be adapting in the same manner.

"For 10 years now I've been thinking that Mayaro is right on the cusp of being able to amplify in humans and being transmitted efficiently by Aedes aegypti mosquitoes," Scott Weaver, PhD, a virologist at The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, told Scientific American.

2. Rift Valley fever: This infection is characterized by fever and chills. In some severe cases it can progress to a hemorrhagic disease accompanied by abnormal bleeding and/or inflammation of the brain. Thus far, transmission to humans is limited to Africa, but more than 30 species of mosquito can spread the illness, 19 of which are native to North America. Also, both wild and domestic animals can serve as reservoirs for the disease.

"The availability of immunologically naive livestock to perpetuate the disease in North America or in Europe is concerning. If it were to come here, the effects on animal health and economy would be profound," Brian Bird, PhD, a virologist at the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine One Health Institute, told Scientific American.

3. Crimean–Congo hemorrhagic fever: This viral disease is transmitted by ticks, which means it's slower to proliferate than mosquito-borne illnesses. However, the disease can be particularly devastating once contracted. Along with rash and fever, the disease can incite bleeding from almost anywhere on the body and is fatal approximately 40 percent of the time. Since 1944, the disease has traveled from Africa to China. In 2016, Spain saw its first two cases, one of which resulted in death.

"It's very difficult to say if that was a one-off introduction of the virus or an indicator of changes in the environment allowing the virus to spread to this area of Europe," Dr. Bird said, regarding the cases in Spain.

4. Usutu: This avian virus is spread by ubiquitous Culex mosquitoes, which are known to transmit West Nile. The virus is comparable to West Nile, causing headaches, fever and neurological issues. However, most Usutu infections in humans resolve without symptoms, although change could be on the horizon.

"Usutu is not far from where West Nile fever was 20 years ago," said Dr. Weaver. 'There were some small outbreaks in Eastern Europe, but for the most part people thought it was not a serious pathogen. Because Usutu is an avian virus, it could easily circulate in many different parts of the world, just like West Nile virus."

More articles on infection control: 
Hospital beds' antibiotic history can put future patients at risk for C. diff 
Oklahoma mumps outbreak up to 70 cases 
Food poisoning linked to Crohn's disease

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