Chikungunya is Here!
Coming soon to a location near you! No, it’s not some kind of crazy new dance in which people strut around flapping their arms like poultry. Unfortunately it is much more serious than that.
Chikungunya is a virus indigenous to Africa and Asia that causes a painful illness in humans. In fact, its name means “that which bends up” because infected patients contort with pain. Early on, patients exhibit a very high fever lasting 2-5 days and often a rash on the trunk, but then the arthritic-like pain sets in in the joint extremities. Pain can last weeks to months, sometimes even years.
For the first time, the virus has been detected in the Western Hemisphere. Ten people in the Caribbean have confirmed cases of Chikungunya.
Chikungunya is an arthropod-borne virus, which means it is carried and transmitted by insects, in this case, mosquitoes. The formal names of the nasty bugs are Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, but they are also known as the Asian tiger mosquito, due to their black and white stripes. Interestingly, the same mosquitoes that transmit Chikungunya also carry another virus emerging in the Western hemisphere, Dengue virus.
Both Chikungunya and Dengue used to be considered tropical diseases. Perhaps it is not surprising though, that these viruses are popping up in more western and northern locations.
The Asian tiger mosquito is silently invading throughout the world. Once found only in tropical Africa and Asia, these mosquitoes have moved throughout Europe, into South America and in 1985, were reported for the first time in mainland United States. They have been found as far north as Chicago, have made it to the Jersey shore, and have more recently struck gold in California.
Asian tiger mosquitoes are really nasty beasts. They transmit more than 20 different diseases (not all of them to humans), are extremely aggressive once they start to bite, are out-competing our local friendly native mosquitoes, and don’t follow the local feeding etiquette; they feed all day long rather than just in the evening.
So how can you protect your children short of never allowing them outside again?
- Remove all standing water. These mosquitoes easily breed and travel in small pools of water. In fact, they reportedly arrived in the US in Texas in pools of water in tires (how they figured that one out, I will never know).
- Cover up with long sleeves and pants to prevent bites
- Use screens on all doors and windows (you know, because you have to open your windows when it is 90 degrees out and you are wearing long sleeves and pants)
- I hate to push this one because I don’t like covering my own kids in chemicals, but it is recommended to spray your kids with insect repellent before they go outside. Wash them off though when they come back in.
- Also, normally I would say to try and limit outdoor time in the evenings but A) I find this nearly impossible because my kids think this is the best time to play outside and B) these buggers feed all day long!
Some other interesting things about Chikungunya (although it is by no means as fascinating as herpes!)
- The severity of the disease is less in younger patients and pregnant women
- Chikungunya is found in monkeys, a reservoir for the virus
- Many patients often experience swelling of their legs, but no one knows how the virus causes it
- The virus has been misspelled as: Chicken guinea, Chicken gunaya, and Chickengunya (I have spelled it this way!)
- In one of the Unites State’s darker periods, Chikungunya was researched as a potential biological weapon before the program was suspended
- Chikungunya was featured in an episode of Bones