A new infection is rapidly spreading throughout the Caribbean. Reports of chikungunya fever first appeared in the region on the island of St. Martin in Dec 2013. Since then, many nations in the region have been ravaged due to the rampant transmission of the virus.
Chikungunya is a Swahili word which translates to “walking bent over.” The illness was first discovered in Tasmania in the 1950s and later became prevalent in areas of Africa and Asia. Reported cases of the disease in the Western Hemisphere had previously been few and far between as all cases were reported through international travel. Now, however, the fever has officially migrated across the globe and become a force to be reckoned with.
Although the chikungunya virus is almost never fatal, 21 lives have been claimed in the Caribbean, according to the Pan American Health Organization (PAO). Symptoms of the disease include crippling joint pain, rash, headache, and fever.
The disease is not without its limitations. It cannot be transmitted directly between humans and; therefore, must resort to using several species of mosquitos as carriers. Once an infected mosquito makes contact with a person, the next human it encounters will contract the illness upon being bitten. Anyone traveling to regions where chikungunya is present is susceptible to the disease. Mosquitos incubated with the fever can strike at any time and are concentrated in higher populations closer to urban areas. An estimated 20 nations and territories have confirmed reports of the illness. The Dominican Republic has suffered the most, with 135,000 suspected cases.
No vaccines or medications exist which prevent or treat cases of chikungunya. People are advised to take precautions against contracting the disease from a mosquito bite. Preventative methods include keeping exposed skin covered and applying insect repellent at regular intervals. If an individual begins to feel ill, it is also recommended he or she contact a physician immediately to determine if the fever is present.
Since the Caribbean has been ravaged due to the rampancy of the chikungunya virus, there are health concerns regarding the potential for the disease to establish a foothold within the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began identifying cases from U.S. travelers early in 2014. The situation is not yet widespread, but the chances of a massive outbreak in the U.S. are increasing exponentially as more and more citizens are returning from the Caribbean. Rising temperatures are also playing a contributing role as climate change ramps up the humidity levels in the air, making much of the U.S. an ideal environment for mosquitos to thrive. Asian tiger mosquitos, which first appeared in Texas in the 1980s, are just one species capable of transmitting chikungunya to humans. The mosquitoes have slowly expanded their habitat and sighted in northern cities such as New York and Chicago. Roger Nasci, a CDC official, said, “We expect that over the course of the next months or years…we will see local transmission.”
The chikungunya fever has spread rampantly throughout the Caribbean and ravaged much of the region due to the disease migrating from the Eastern Hemisphere. The clock is ticking until the illness takes up residence in the U.S., and there will be nothing to toss it back out again.
By Samuel Williams