Miami University – Top Stories
By Margo Kissell, university news and communications, firstname.lastname@example.org
Rao pictured at the DARPA award ceremony with Col. Matthew Hepburn and DARPA Director Arati Prabhakar (photo courtesy of Rao).
An assistant professor in Miami University’s department of computer science and software engineering has won $10,000 for a computer model forecasting where the Chikungunya (CHIKV) mosquito-borne virus is likely to spread next.
Dhananjai “DJ” Rao was among 11 teams or individuals recognized recently in a competition organized by the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The agency launched the CHIKV Challenge last year to accelerate the development of new infectious disease forecasting methods. The aim is to help governments and health organizations around the world take proactive steps against Chikungunya (pronounced chik-en-gun-ye).
The disease is rarely fatal but can cause debilitating joint and muscle pain, fever, nausea, fatigue and rash. DARPA said it poses a growing public health and national security risk.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that as of June 2, 2015, there were no locally transmitted cases reported from U.S. states. Local transmission means mosquitos in the area have been infected with the virus and are spreading it to people.
However, 157 Chikungunya virus cases have been reported from 30 states, including Ohio, with all of those cases occurring in travelers returning from affected areas, according to the CDC.
Rao has been forecasting emergent diseases for about seven years, with a focus on influenza-like diseases such as flu, avian flu and swine flu.
“I have worked on forecasting the global spread of avian strains with migratory waterfowl being the transcontinental vector,” Rao said. “Consequently, forecasting Chikungunya that is spread by mosquitoes was a natural transition.”
Chikungunya had an impact on India, Rao’s native country, before it arrived in the Americas in 2013. Rao said the DARPA challenge gave him a chance to pursue his interest …