A distressing piece of information has been shared by health officials: mosquitoes in the U.S. have begun spreading a virus that is common in the Caribbean. On Thursday two cases of domestically acquired Chikungunya infections were communicated to the public. Currently it is believed that the infection was spread by healthy mosquitoes that, after biting infected individuals, spread the disease to other non-infected people.
While Department of Health officials have been reassuring the public that there is no broad risk to the public (according to Dr. Celeste Philip), there still are recommendations to prevent mosquito bites.
Roger Nasci of the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) declared that, by arriving in the United States, the chikungunya virus will only underscore the risks that exotic pathogens pose. The virus itself is rarely fatal. Out of the 350,000 confirmed cases worldwide, there were only 21 patients that died. Apart from fever, severe joint pain, headaches, rashes, swelling and muscle aches, there aren’t serious symptoms and patients normally recover within a week. There is a possibility that some patients experience long-term joint pains but it rarely happens. The chikungunya virus has no specific treatment and there is yet no specific vaccine for its prevention.
Epidemiologists have confirmed that the two identified cases have not recently left the country so the virus is most certainly spreading here. The patients are a 41 year old woman and a 50 year old man who first noticed symptoms between June 10th and July 1st. All other cases of confirmed chikungunya (230) had been traveling prior to getting sick so epidemiologists concluded that they contracted the illness elsewhere.
Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have reported several cases of chikungunya virus infections that were confirmed to have been locally acquired (121 cases for Puerto Rico and 2 cases for the Virgin Islands).
While the virus is indeed in the United States, health officials believe that there will be no significant risk that it will pose. It will probably behave like the dengue virus which caused some occasional transmissions but never widespread outbreaks. Moreover, it seems that the chikungunya virus that is circulating in the Carribean is an Asian strain and consequently, it can only be carried by Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. Thankfully, this specific mosquito can only be found in the far southeast of the United States and as a result, it seems that the U.S. still has some time to enforce effective counter measures for when the virus could actually hit.