Chikungunya Virus: Cause for Concern in the United States

Chikungunya virus cases are currently occurring at a high rate in the Caribbean and the fear of this virus spreading in the United States is a cause for concern. Cases of chikungunya viral infection have recently been reported to appear in a few states in the U.S. Recent reports have included identified cases in North Carolina, Rhode Island and Tennessee.

The U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) is concerned about the spread of this mosquito-borne virus in the United States because of the current high rate of infection occurring elsewhere, especially in the Caribbean. Normally, someone contracts the virus when they are travelling in the Caribbean, for example, and they do not spread the virus to others once they arrive at home in the U.S. The concern of the CDC is that this virus may start to spread as a result of the transmission of the virus internally in the U.S. The recent cases of chikungunya viral infection that have been reported in the United States occurred in people that recently traveled outside of the U.S.

The symptoms of a chikumgunya viral infection are initial fever followed by joint pains, which are similar to the types of joint pain found with arthritis. Someone who is infected with the virus is not likely to die but people with compromised immune systems or the elderly may suffer more than others who have healthy immune systems. As with many viral infections, the infection runs its course within a matter of days. There is no vaccination available to prevent getting sick with a chikumgunya viral infection.

Control of mosquitos, and mosquito bites, will aid in keeping the number of chikungunya viral infections down. Reports have suggested that the United States is better at controlling the mosquito population because of the high use of air conditioning in areas that normally have higher temperatures. A concern, however, about the chikumgunya virus is the type of mosquito that carries this virus is often found out in the daytime rather than during the evening, which is the time that most mosquitoes are found to be out. This increases the chances that a person could be bitten, because most people do not think much about mosquito protection until the evening, when the biting is almost relentless in some areas. Because of this there will be less vigilance about using mosquito repellent when the chikungunya mosquito is out searching for prey.

The chikugunya virus is thought to have originated in Africa. The name chikumgunya (accent on the “gun” syllable) is based on a word in the Makonde language, which is spoken in Tanzania and northern Mozambique. In Makonde, chikugunya means something like “that which bends up.” The chikugunya virus has been reported to have been given this name because of the way patients infected with the virus contort their bodies due to the joint pain associated with the infection.

Now that summer is approaching, and the mosquitos are to be out in full force in the United States, the chikungunya virus will likely remain a cause for concern in the foreseeable future. The CDC will need to remain vigilant in their watch for the spread of this mosquito-borne virus.

By Margaret Lutze

The Tennessean

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