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Chikungunya – An Epidemic Among Travelers

You may not have heard of Chikungunya yet. If you have, you know it has reached the level of an epidemic in 12 Caribbean nations. The first case appeared in the island nation of St. Martin’s in December 2013. Since that time, all 12 nations in the Caribbean are treating more than 100,000 cases of it.

Chikungunya has already reached the US and the numbers of cases are swelling. ABC News reported on June 14, 2014 that there were 2 reported cases in Rhode Island with 41 reported cases in 6 states. On June 19, 2014, NBC affiliate KJRH-TV in Tulsa, OK reported on the first Oklahoma confirmed case. They added that there were now 15 states in the US with 57 reported Chikungunya cases.

There are some bright spots in this picture. All of the cases in the US involved travelers to the Caribbean where they contracted the disease. While there is no vaccine or treatment for Chikungunya, no fatalities have been attributed to the disease. Symptoms appear within 3-7 days and typically last 1 week. Symptoms such as fever, headache and severe joint pain are common. For some, the joint pain and arthritis-like symptoms may last for several months. Due to the severe joint pain associated with the disease, Chikungunya means “bent over” in an African language in Tanzania where it was first discovered.

Although the 2 mosquito species responsible for spreading Chikungunya are established here in the US, we have had no local spread of the disease. Both of these mosquito species are daytime biters, unlike other mosquitoes that are more active at dusk through dawn. Humans infected with the virus are a vector for transmission of the disease to uninfected mosquitoes. These infected mosquitoes can in turn bite uninfected humans and spread the disease further.

While Caribbean nations are waging a campaign against this disease with fumigation sprays, education programs on removing standing water from properties, etc. it’s important for everyone to prevent mosquito bites. Unknowing US travelers have brought the infection into 15 of our states so far and the summer travel season has just begun. We have been fortunate there haven’t been any reported cases of Chikungunya in Westchester County NY. We all hope it stays that way.