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Chikungunya fever (CHIKV), a viral disease transmitted by mosquitoes, is currently affecting several areas in the Caribbean. The vector is found in the Americas from southern Florida to Brazil, and the Caribbean is a highly connected region in terms of population movements. There is therefore a significant risk for the epidemic to quickly expand to a wide area in the Americas. Here, we describe the spread of CHIKV in the first three areas to report cases and between areas in the region. Local transmission of CHIKV in the Caribbean is very effective, the mean number of cases generated by a human case ranging from two to four. There is a strong spatial signature in the regional epidemic, with the risk of transmission between areas estimated to be inversely proportional to the distance rather than driven by air transportation. So far, this simple distance-based model has successfully predicted observed patterns of spread. The spatial structure allows ranking areas according to their risk of invasion. This characterisation may help national and international agencies to optimise resource allocation for monitoring and control and encourage areas with elevated risks to act.


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