In slightly more than a year, the Americas have seen more than 1.24 million cases of chikungunya virus, a mosquito-borne disease that causes high fever and debilitating joint pain.
The tropical virus was rare in North, Central, and South America until December 2013, when investigation of suspected dengue virus in the Caribbean island of St. Martin turned up 26 cases of chikungunya, without any sign they had been imported from elsewhere.
As of the end of February 2015, that handful of cases had exploded to 1,247,400 suspected and confirmed cases, affecting almost every country in the hemisphere, according to the Pan-American Health Organization.
Until the end of 2013, chikungunya in the Americas was almost entirely imported from countries in Africa or Asia where the tropical virus was endemic.
In the U.S., most cases are still imported — a cumulative total of some 2,542 since 2013, according to the PAHO, with an additional 11 cases, all in Florida, blamed on local transmission. But most of that transmission now comes from the epidemics raging elsewhere in the region.
The U.S. numbers might be an underestimate…until this year, the virus was not a nationally notifiable disease, so some cases might have been missed.
The virus — the name is pronounced chik-un-GUHN-ya — is carried by mosquitoes, mainly Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, which are widespread in the U.S.
The CDC notes that both species primarily bite in the daytime and urges that travelers take precautions against mosquito bites, including wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants, if weather permits, and using insect repellents.
There is no specific treatment for the virus and no vaccine, but its dramatic spread has re-focused the attention of vaccine researchers…
By summertime, some enterprising news-as-entertainment-network will pick up on the fear-factor potential of another disease originating in Africa and take a shot at American Ebola panic to get traffic up on their crappy channel. There have been a few false starts; but, the Philistines haven’t succeeded. Yet.
Meanwhile, support for vaccine studies proceeds at a deliberate pace. Something else for both New Age and Old Testament Luddites to use to up their anti-science game.
The CDC will have – and does have – reasonable safety suggestions. Not unlike the usual sensible practices everywhere insect-borne disease may flourish.