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Mosquito spread spurs climate change debate

As we get set for a period of warmer temperatures following on the heels of this extremely wet weather, it’s only prudent that we start to talk about our favorite summer pest and potential disease carrier, the mosquito.

A female albopictus, Asian tiger mosquito, gets a blood meal from a human host

This year, in addition to West Nile, doctors at the Centers for Disease Control are concerned about the spread of the Chikungunya virus that’s establishing itself throughout the Caribbean. Originating first in Asia and Africa, the virus is spread in this region by Aedes albopictus, the Asian tiger mosquito. Rarely fatal, persons contracting the disease experience high fever with prolonged and severe joint pain that sometimes can last up to a year. The disease usually runs its course in a week’s time. Currently, there is no vaccination for the virus.

Chikungunya was first discovered in the Caribbean in St. Martin in December. Since then it’s traversed French Guiana, Martinique and Guadeloupe with as many as 31,000 scattered across the islands. And the bad news is this: not only is the virus traveling north, its carrier is adapting.

Scientists studying climate change see the migration of the Asian tiger as a way to change the question from if climate change is really happening to how we can prepare ourselves for the consequences of a warmer environment.

Since its introduction to Texas in 1985, albopictus has moved steadily northward, seeking temperatures with an average of 50° Fahrenheit. Currently, they are well dispersed in New York and are thought to be in high numbers in the Washington DC area.

The mosquito too, is adapting; changing in ways necessary to thrive in our Northern climate. It’s learned to ignore the cooler temperatures of autumn and postpone hibernation which affords it a longer period to lay its eggs.

The CDC is gearing itself for the eventual appearance of Chikungunya in the US. Dr. Erin Staples, a medical epidemiologist for the agency said, “To help prepare the United States for the possible introduction of the virus, CDC has been working with state health departments to increase awareness about Chikungunya and to facilitate diagnostic testing and early detection of any US cases.”

CDC is also advising travelers heading to the islands of mosquito precautions to take. Using repellents, wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants along with staying at lodges that have air conditioning or use screens on all their windows and doors are some of the suggestions found on their travel watch page.

Sources: Fox News (website), Newly arrived virus spread by mosquitoes is rapidly gaining foothold in the Caribbean, Trenton Daniel, May 1, 2014; CNN (website), As US warms, dangerous mosquito thrives, Durland Fish, Mark Pagani, Anthony Leiserowitz, April 30, 2014.

CDC Mosquito Warning Links
Mosquito Comparison
Chikungunya Virus
Travel Watch – Chikungunya Virus

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