Chikungunya Fever Outbreak Appears Imminent In The United States

| by Kathryn Schroeder

Chikungunya fever has made its way to United States, and the Asian tiger mosquito is going to help it spread rapidly.

In Swahili, “chikungunya” means “walking bent over,” a common occurrence that happens to those infected with the disease as they have trouble walking due to headaches, rashes, fevers, and paralyzing joint pain.

Cases of chikungunya fever were concentrated in Asia and Africa until last year.

The virus found its way to the Caribbean island of St. Martin in October 2013, and quickly spread from there.

Now the disease-carrying Asian tiger mosquito is in America, and has reached as far north as New York and Chicago, reports The Blaze.

Pediatrician Jennifer Halverson, who was volunteering at a maternity clinic in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, contracted the disease one evening before returning home to Minnesota, reports NPR.

"Then I woke up at 3 in the morning," Halverson says, "and what struck me the most was that my shoulders were on fire. It was like I was being stabbed in both shoulders."

Halverson also suffered from pain in her hips, knees, and elbows, had a fever, a rash, and painful sores in her mouth.

The rash and sores subsided, but Halverson is still suffering from joint pain that may last for months.

Chikungunya fever is rarely fatal, but there is no cure for the disease.

The Pan American Health Organization reported this week that over the past seven months chikungunya fever has sickened more than a quarter-million people in the Caribbean.

In 2014, 129 travelers have brought chikungunya to 27 states and territories, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The disease has not spread beyond the travelers but the CDC believes it is only a matter of time.

"Right now, we are worried about chikungunya in the U.S.," says Roger Nasci of the CDC. "In fact, we expect that over the course of the next months or years — as this virus spreads through the American tropics, and we see more travelers coming into the U.S — we will see local transmission."

The reason chikungunya is so easily spreadable in the United States is because of one big black-and-white striped mosquito—Aedes albopictus, the Asian tiger mosquito.

“Yeah, that's the Asian tiger mosquito that people notice when it's there because it bites during the daytime," Nasci says. "They're very aggressive and very noticeable because populations can be large."

The Asian tiger mosquito is found in the eastern third of the U.S., reaching as far north as Connecticut and New York City.

A method of precaution that can be taken for the future is to remove all standing water around your home.

"These mosquitoes, they live in the water in your flower pot reservoir, the kid's toy that's out back and collects rainwater ... or that tire or bucket," Nasci says. "So if you eliminate those containers, you're going to reduce the number of mosquitoes near your residency, which is going to reduce your risk."