The Global Virus Network announced on Monday that it formed the GVN Chikungunya Task Force with top virologists in response to the disease reaching the Western Hemisphere.
The announcement was made on World Health Day, during which vector-borne diseases, such as chikungunya, were targeted by the World Health Organization.
"Viruses are among the leading causes of death and disability in the world," Robert Gallo, the co-founder of GVN and director of the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said. "Being able to quickly bring together the most knowledgeable researchers without regards to borders and political agendas to address viral threats such as chikungunya is paramount."
Chikungunya causes severe fever and pain and has mostly remained in Africa, Indian Subcontinent and Southeast Asia. It is transmitted by mosquitoes.
"There is every expectation that chikungunya will continue its spread from the Caribbean into Central and South America, Mexico, and eventually the United States," Global Virus Network Chikungunya Task Force co-chair Scott Weaver said. "As we gear up to address chikungunya in the Americas, we have much to learn from other countries where the virus has been endemic for many years. And, this new global collaboration will help all countries, particularly as we prepare for vaccine trials."
The task force is comprised of 16 virologists from nine countries and is led by Weaver, John Fazakerley of the Pirbright Institute and Marc Lecuit of the Institut Pasteur. The group will focus on rapid identification, treatment options and developing a vaccine.
"The GVN Chikungunya Task Force will help speed the process to creating vaccines and much-needed diagnostic tools," Global Virus Network President Sharon Hrynkow said. "We look forward to working with public health agencies, including the Pan American Health Organization, to prevent the spread of chikungunya and mitigate human suffering."