By Bahar Gholipour
The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, is challenging innovators to build models to predict how the mosquito-borne chikungunya virus could spread across countries in the Americas. Whoever makes the best model will take home $150,000.
The chikungunya virus causes fever and debilitating joint pain, and until recently was found only in Africa and Southeast Asia. But since last year, the virus has spread to the Americas, and has infected thousands of people in the Caribbean. Most chikungunya patients in the United States were infected when traveling in the Caribbean, but four Americans have caught the virus inside this country.
DARPA’s challenge, called CHIKV (which stands for chikungunya virus), aims to find ways to forecast the spread of the virus, and predict future outbreaks in the Caribbean, along with North, Central and South America. The predictions will cover a six-month period starting in September.
“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,” Col. Matthew Hepburn, the DARPA program manager for the CHIKV Challenge, said in a statement.