Background: Globally, arthropod-borne virus infections are increasingly common causes of severe febrile disease that can progress to long-term physical or cognitive impairment or result in early death. Because of the large populations at risk, it has been suggested that these outcomes represent a substantial health deficit not captured by current global disease burden assessments.
Methods: We reviewed newly available data on disease incidence and outcomes to critically evaluate the disease burden (as measured by disability-adjusted life years, or DALYs) caused by yellow fever virus (YFV), Japanese encephalitis virus (JEV), chikungunya virus (CHIKV), and Rift Valley fever virus (RVFV). We searched available literature and official reports on these viruses combined with the terms "outbreak(s)," "complication(s)," "disability," "quality of life," "DALY," and "QALY," focusing on reports since 2000. We screened 210 published studies, with 38 selected for inclusion. Data on average incidence, duration, age at onset, mortality, and severity of acute and chronic outcomes were used to create DALY estimates for 2005, using the approach of the current Global Burden of Disease framework.
Results: Given the limitations of available data, nondiscounted, unweighted DALYs attributable to YFV, JEV, CHIKV, and RVFV were estimated to fall between 300,000 and 5,000,000 for 2005. YFV was the most prevalent infection of the four viruses evaluated, although a higher proportion of the world's population lives in countries at risk for CHIKV and JEV. Early mortality and long-term, related chronic conditions provided the largest DALY components for each disease. The better known, short-term viral febrile syndromes caused by these viruses contributed relatively lower proportions of the overall DALY scores.
Conclusions: Limitations in health systems in endemic areas undoubtedly lead to underestimation of arbovirus incidence and related complications. However, improving diagnostics and better understanding of the late secondary results of infection now give a first approximation of the current disease burden from these widespread serious infections. Arbovirus control and prevention remains a high priority, both because of the current disease burden and the significant threat of the re-emergence of these viruses among much larger groups of susceptible populations.