DARPA issues challenge for chikungunya forecasting model

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) recently opened a competition to develop forecasting models for when and where the chikungunya virus will appear.

The CHIKV Challenge will award $150,000 to the winning team and cash prizes for runners up to create a model that covers all countries in the Americas and the Caribbean over a six-month period starting in September of this year.

"The CHIKV Challenge is exciting on many levels," Col. Matthew Hepburn, the director of the CHIKV Challenge, said. "For one, chikungunya is already here in the Americas, so teams are going to have to work at the speed of an epidemic to build their models. But equally exciting, we believe this effort could lead to the creation of tools that work even faster than the speed of an epidemic, giving us the opportunity to act effectively before an infectious disease actually arrives and spreads."

At the end of the contest, winning teams will be invited to meet with government experts from partner agencies with an interest in predictive modeling.

The CHIKV Challenge is open to anyone 18 years and older, and participants may compete individually or as part of a team.

The U.S. has averaged 28 cases of imported chikungunya per year since 2006 in people returning from countries where the disease is common. Dozens of states have reported travel-related cases of the disease so far this year.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it believes chikungunya virus will behave like the dengue virus in the U.S., where imported cases led to sporadic local transmission but not any large outbreaks.