The CDC has issued a “watch” alert for Chikungunya virus in the Caribbean. Reported local transmission of Chikungunya in the Americas only began in December of 2013, as it had only been reported in Asia in the past. Yet already in 2014, there have been upwards of 800,000 cases of Chikungunya in the Caribbean and surrounding countries. The impact of Chikungunya has likely been so significant because it appears to be relatively new in this hemisphere, and thus not that many people have generated immunity to the disease.
Chikungunya is similar to dengue in that the disease is primarily transmitted by mosquitoes. Another parallel is in the symptoms; these include flu like symptoms and may additionally include joint pain of varying severity. Some individuals are able to recover from Chikungunya virus infection relatively quickly, while others are plagued with severe joint pain for an indefinite amount of time. Dr. C. James Hospedales, the executive director of the Caribbean Public Health Agency, said that around 20% of the people who contract this disease end up getting these more long lasting painful symptoms which are difficult to treat. This population is primarily composed of elderly people and those already with chronic illnesses.
Unfortunately, there is no approved vaccine or widely accepted treatment, so prevention is the best bet. The mosquito primarily associated with Chikungunya virus tends to bite in the daytime, so extra care should be taken to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes such as wearing repellant, and long sleeves.
While not yet extremely common in the United States, around 1,500 travelers from the US to the Americas returned with Chikungunya virus, and it has been locally acquired in parts of Florida. It is not at all implausible for the range of Chikungunya virus to continue to extend from the Caribbean and parts of Florida, to the rest of the United States, especially considering the speed with which it has invaded the Caribbean. Hopefully treatments for the disease improve in the near future.
- - Eddie Irvine