Navy unit aims to expand dengue, Chikungunya tests in Latin America

The U.S. Naval Medical Research Unit No. 6 (NAMRU-6) is currently conducting passive clinical-base surveillance in Latin America, testing for both dengue and Chikungunya fever, with plans to expand the effort next year, the Naval Medical and Research Development News said in its December issue.

The two diseases are usually transmitted through mosquitoes, which thrive in tropical environments. Chikungunya fever came to the Western hemisphere in 2013, landing first in the Caribbean Islands, and has been spreading north and south.

NAMRU-6 is conducting studies at over two dozen sites in five countries in an effort to slow down the spread of the diseases. The studies are funded by Global Emerging Infections Surveillance and Response Operations, a division of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center.

Dengue fever has four known variants, called serotypes. Getting infected with one serotype doesn't provide immunity against the other three.

Chikungunya infections are caused by a single virus that can leave a carrier debilitated for months. Symptoms for both viruses include joint and muscle pain, fever and headaches.

“Epidemics of these diseases are explosive, causing debilitating illness in large numbers of people very rapidly, which could be devastating to operational readiness,” the Naval Medical Research Center said.

Blood samples are tested to detect dengue fever and other viral pathogens. Chikungunya fever testing is done on those who have tested negative for dengue fever.

NAMRU-6 hopes to be able to conduct Chikungunya serological tests sometime in 2015.

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