History / Origin
Isolated for the first time in 1954, in Mayaro, Trinidad, after several forest workers presented symptoms of high fever, the virus that bears the same name as the area where it was found has done little damage until present days. Just like the much-known Zika virus, the Mayaro virus is also spread by mosquitoes, which primarily feed on monkeys in the forests of the Amazon. But, when humans entered their territory, these unpleasant flying bugs did not hesitate to change their menu and contribute to the spreading of a virus that still remains relatively unknown to the medical and scientific world.
Ever since it was discovered, the virus caused small, occasional outbreaks, somewhere around 30 to 100 cases, in the northern area of South America, which was close to the Amazon. But, a new strain of Mayaro virus or MAYV as it is called in the medical world has been recently discovered, when an 8-year-old boy got sick in Haiti, in the year 2015. There are aspects that make scientists believe that the virus began circulating freely around the Caribbean, increasing the number of people that contacted the virus and got sick.
What is the Mayaro Virus?
The Mayaro virus belongs to the Togaviridae family and the Alphavirus genus. Thus, it is very similar to other Alphaviruses, such as the one that causes dengue, the symptoms of the Mayaro virus being similar to the ones triggered by dengue or Zika. As mentioned earlier, it is believed that the virus is mainly transmitted through the bites of flying insects, such as the mosquito, more precisely the Haemagogus virus. The virus may be contacted primarily from primates, as they are the main food source for the mosquitos, but also from birds and reptiles, and passed on to human through the infected blood of the mosquitoes.
Typically found in South America, in the humid forests of the Amazon, the virus seems to have traveled to the Caribbean, in Haiti. Since it was found that the Zika virus can cause severe brain defects in unborn children and can endanger a pregnancy, health authorities paid a special attention to arboviruses. The scientific world is trying to find out as much as possible about this little-known virus before an epidemic in the Caribbean starts.
Symptoms and Treatment
The Mayaro virus was difficult to find in the Caribbeans because it produces similar symptoms as in the case of dengue. Called the Mayaro fever, those that get infected with the virus will present high fever that may last anywhere between 3 and 5 days, together with pain behind the eyes, headaches, pain in the joints and muscles, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and the presence of rashes.
In some cases, patients that contacted the virus may experience painful joints for almost a year after the infection. Also, it was recorded one single case of fatal hemorrhagic fever caused by the Mayaro virus, which proves that it can be extremely dangerous if the immune system of the infected person is weak or compromised. Unfortunately, there isn’t a cure for this virus just yet. The people infected with the Mayaro virus will receive symptomatic treatment that will reduce their fever and keep other symptoms under control until the body’s immune system will remove them from the organism.
How it all started in Haiti
Until 2015, nobody paid too much attention to the Mayaro virus because it didn’t cause too much havoc and it was isolated to the island of Mayaro, in Trinidad, where it was initially located. But then a boy shows us sick at school in the rural area of Haiti, showing fever and abdominal pain, doctors giving him the diagnosis of typhoid fever and a treatment to follow.
Apparently, the healthcare providers in Haiti considered that any child that will present a fever would have typhoid or malaria, but no one suspected that it could be something else. That until Glenn Morris, who was the director of the Emerging Pathogen Institute at the University of Florida, in Gainesville, and his team discovered that some of the kids did not suffer from typhoid. The team did not look for Mayaro either, deciding to study all the viruses that were infecting the children in Haiti’s rural areas. But, as they advanced with their studies, they discovered that only 5% of the children had a fever due to typhoid and 5% due to malaria. Thus, there was the question of what causes the rest of the fever cases?
They proceeded at taking blood samples from sick children and allowing the viruses in the blood to grow and thrive for several days. The results pointed out toward dengue fever, but also chikungunya and the first case of Zika ever discovered in Haiti. So when the boy that was previously mentioned came at school, at the beginning of 2015, with fever and pain in the abdominal area, but with no rashes and clear lungs, being treated for typhoid, the researchers were surprised at what they found in his blood. When the results from genome sequencing were ready, it was confirmed that the virus they were dealing with was the Mayaro virus. What they couldn’t figure out was whether his symptoms were indeed triggered by the MAYV, since he was already suffering from dengue as well. This was the moment when the scientific world knew that the Mayaro virus reached the Caribbean and could be responsible for the numerous cases of fever in the area.
Could the Mayaro virus become a health issue?
When the Zika virus was discovered, everybody considered it a benign virus until it was discovered what severe consequences it can have if a pregnant woman contracts it. So, any new virus that appears and it is not fully understood, should be treated with a lot of attention. While it is not known for sure how the virus reached Haiti, since the mosquito that transmits the virus is not native to this area, it is highly likely for the mosquitos that live in the Caribbean to start carrying around the virus, especially since there was a lot of water left behind by Hurricane Matthew, which created the ideal environment for mosquitos to thrive. In other cases of Mayaro fever will be found in Haiti, then this virus will certainly become a concern.