Three cases of chikungunya virus have been detected on Long Island, in addition to a fourth case in Florida after the victims returned from trips to the Caribbean in recent weeks. The mosquito-borne illness, most prevalent in part of sub-Saharan Africa, as well as Caribbean Islands, and South America, as well as Southeast Asia has hit epidemic proportions affecting some 355,000 people in more than 230 countries, taking health officials by surprise. In fact, the CDC now reports that the above cases are only the latest among 357 Americans who have visited endemic areas.
Chikungunya is just the latest in a growing list of diseases transmitted by mosquitoes (in this case two species identified as Aedea albopictus and Aedes aeegypti) to invade our shores. Others include West Nile Virus, and dengue fever (aka bone-break fever). Although not considered to be deadly, chikungunya fever is “extremely debilitating and causes fever and severe joint pain which can reoccur for years.chikungunya joints.
Additional symptoms often include headache, muscle pain, joint swelling, or rash. While there is currently no vaccine to prevent or medicine to treat chikungunya virus infection, travelers can protect themselves by using insect repellent, wear long sleeves and pants, and stay in places with air conditioning or that use window and door screens to prevent being bitten by the mosquitoes.
In the meantime, the CDC also reports the outbreak of another “tropical” disease, babesiosis. Babesiosis is said to be similar to malaria, and is caused by “microscopic parasites that infect red blood cells and is spread by certain ticks.” Symptoms may include fever, chills, body aches, and nausea. It can also lead to complications that include hemolytic anemia, unstable blood pressure, and even death. Those most at risk are elderly people, as well as those with compromised immune systems. So far 6 cases have been confirmed in New Jersey, where the Ocean County Health Department is currently investigating 5 more suspected infections.
For more information readers can contact the CDC at 1600 Clifton Rd., Atlanta, GA 30333 800 232-4636.