Chikungunya is an emerging arbovirus that has caused explosive outbreaks in Africa and Asia for decades and invaded the Americas just over a year ago. During this ongoing invasion, it has spread to 45 countries where it has been transmitted autochthonously, infecting nearly 1.3 million people in total.
Here, we made use of weekly, country-level case reports to infer relationships between transmission and two putative climatic drivers: temperature and precipitation averaged across each country on a monthly basis. To do so, we used a TSIR model that enabled us to infer a parametric relationship between climatic drivers and transmission potential, and we applied a new method for incorporating a probabilistic description of the serial interval distribution into the TSIR framework.
We found significant relationships between transmission and linear and quadratic terms for temperature and precipitation and a linear term for log incidence during the previous pathogen generation. The lattermost suggests that case numbers three to four weeks ago are largely predictive of current case numbers. This effect is quite nonlinear at the country level, however, due to an estimated mixing parameter of 0.74. Relationships between transmission and the climatic variables that we estimated were biologically plausible and in line with expectations.
Our analysis suggests that autochthonous transmission of Chikungunya in the Americas can be correlated successfully with putative climatic drivers, even at the coarse scale of countries and using long-term average climate data. Overall, this provides a preliminary suggestion that successfully forecasting the future trajectory of a Chikungunya outbreak and the receptivity of virgin areas may be possible. Our results also provide tentative estimates of timeframes and areas of greatest risk, and our extension of the TSIR model provides a novel tool for modeling vector-borne disease transmission.