People in Tennessee who have recently travelled to the Caribbean have possibly been exposed to and are spreading Chikungunya Fever, according to the Tennessee Department of Health. It is a mosquito-borne disease that is has been circulating around the Caribbean Islands over the past six months.
Dr. James Crowe Jr., a Vanderbilt University professor and member of the Chikungunya Task Force Global Virus Network, said the disease is likely to become widespread here in the United States just as the West Nile virus has and could create a sustained footing in mainland America as soon as next year. Another Professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University, Dr. William Schaffner, says the disease’s name comes from an African language where it roughly translates to “bent over in pain.”
Chikungunya is not usually fatal. The symptoms last for around four days and include extremely uncomfortable stomach pains, high fever, rashes and severe joint pains. There are around 10 to 15 percent of patients who have joint aches and pains continuing for a few months after the initial few days however. Two mosquitoes species transmit the disease: the Aedes aegypti and the Aedes albopictus, both also carry the dengue virus, which has very similar symptoms.
Those two species of mosquitoes are found across the southern and eastern United States, which is why the Tennessee Department of Health is so concerned about Chikungunya Fever. The Center for Disease Control in the U.S. said in a June 4 update that the 27 imported cases reported so far this year had already equaled the average number reported in a typical year. As of the end of May, Florida had reported 18 infections in six counties, according to the Florida Department of Health. All of the patients had traveled to countries that had previously been known to have Chikungunya. United States officials announced three new imported cases on Monday June 9.
As of June 6, the Pan American Health Organization suspected or confirmed 135,000 cases across the Caribbean since it was first transmitted locally in December 2013. That number is over 28,000 higher than the 107,000 cases reported the previous week. The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, which has been tracking the outbreak in the Caribbean, also reported similar numbers. The initial case in the Western Hemisphere occurred in St. Martin, a French territory 230 miles east of Puerto Rico. Since the first case, the viral disease, which was first identified in Africa, has spread very rapidly, including many confirmed cases on the northern shoulder of South America in countries like French Guiana and Guyana.
A study by a Canadian research team found that the United States is the final destination for over half the air travelers leaving Caribbean Chikungunya outbreak areas. The researchers added that many North American travelers traveling to the Caribbean return to areas of the United States where the climate is appropriate for local transmission.
Since the CDC update, however, more states have reported infections in travelers. The states where Chikungunya Fever is spreading include, Nebraska, Indiana, Florida, Tennessee and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Therefore health officials are asking everyone to be aware of the issue, especially if someone has been in contact with another person who has recently traveled to the Caribbean.
By B. Taylor Rash