Mosquito-Borne Virus Nearing U.S.

Published 07/08 2014 10:39PM

Updated 07/09 2014 09:43AM

(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.)  A new virus to the United States now has 129 victims from across 27 states. It's name is Chikungunya, and it's caught the attention of health professionals who are now alerting the public, especially those who are planning a trip to the Caribbean.

We know about the dangers of mosquitoes spreading West Nile Virus and even malaria. But, there might be a new danger on the mosquito-borne illness on the horizon that they've known about in Africa for years. Chikungunya -- a Swahili word.

"That which bends up," said Dr. Scott Folk, Director of Infectious Diseases at Heartland Health, in describing the translation of the word.

"It refers to the very upright posture that patients assume when they try to walk because every bone and joint in their body aches," he said. "So it's very upright and rigid."

It's a virus that has made its way from Asia and Africa to islands in the Caribbean. While that might not affect us hear at home directly, one St. Joseph woman was recently diagnosed with the disease.

"She'd been traveling in the Caribbean back in the early part of the year," Folk said. "She had fever and she had joint pain. Laboratory tests confirmed she had Chikungunya."

Fever, headache, muscle pain and rashes along with severe joint pain are the symptoms of the disease. That's what a woman from Georgia suffered after returning from a mission to Haiti in early June.

"My joints were hurting really bad," said Ashley Manning. "I was like really getting out of breath and it was like having a fever."

While cases of Chikungunya are still rare, Dr. Folk is worried the virus will spread further north.

"The key question going forward is going to be, will transmission begin to occur in the U.S. Similar to as it has in the Caribbean?" he said.

There is no treatment and there is no cure for Chikungunya. People with the virus just have to let the virus run its course.

"There's no preventive vaccine, but there is prevention," Folk said. "Chikungunya is a prime example is an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

Dr. Folk says prevention comes in the form of making sure if you are going to the Caribbean to take mosquito repellent like Deet.

He says symptoms of Chikungunya start showing anywhere from three to seven days after a mosquito bite.

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