El Niño southern Oscillation, overseas arrivals and imported chikungunya cases in Australia: A time series analysis

by Xiaodong Huang, Wenbiao Hu, Laith Yakob, Gregor J. Devine, Elizabeth A. McGraw, Cassie C. Jansen, Helen M. Faddy, Francesca D. Frentiu


Chikungunya virus (CHIKV) is an emerging mosquito-borne pathogen circulating in tropical and sub-tropical regions. Although autochthonous transmission has not been reported in Australia, there is a potential risk of local CHIKV outbreaks due to the presence of suitable vectors, global trade, frequent international travel and human adaptation to changes in climate.

Methodology/Principal findings

A time series seasonal decomposition method was used to investigate the seasonality and trend of monthly imported CHIKV cases. This pattern was compared with the seasonality and trend of monthly overseas arrivals. A wavelet coherence analysis was applied to examine the transient relationships between monthly imported CHIKV cases and southern oscillation index (SOI) in time-frequency space. We found that the number and geographical distribution of countries of acquisition for CHIKV in travellers to Australia has increased in recent years. The number of monthly imported CHIKV cases displayed an unstable increased trend compared with a stable linear increased trend in monthly overseas arrivals. Both imported CHIKV cases and overseas arrivals showed substantial seasonality, with the strongest seasonal effects in each January, followed by each October and July. The wavelet coherence analysis identified four significant transient relationships between monthly imported CHIKV cases and 6-month lagged moving average SOI, in the years 2009–2010, 2012, 2014 and 2015–2016.


High seasonal peaks of imported CHIKV cases were consistent with the high seasonal peaks of overseas arrivals into Australia. Our analysis also indicates that El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) variation may impact CHIKV epidemics in endemic regions, in turn influencing the pattern of imported cases.

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