Chikungunya fever: A new infection, coming your way soon
© 2014 Roy Benaroch, MD
I first heard about chikungunya about ten years ago, when outbreaks of this mosquito-borne illness were becoming common among travelers to India. It hasn’t taken long to spread to the Caribbean, and soon enough it’s likely to become widespread in the United States.
Sometimes called “Chikungunya Fever,” the illness causes fever and severe joint pain that can be debilitating, and can last for weeks. Fatalities are rare, and there is no specific treatment and no vaccine. Unlike West Nile Virus, the virus that causes Chikungunya triggers symptoms in almost everyone who is exposed.
The chikungunya virus is spread by the bite of one of two species of mosquitoes—species that are widespread in especially the southern USA. Those same mosquitoes can also transmit dengue, which has already started appearing in Florida and Texas.
We live in a big, interconnected world, with plenty of travelers and plenty of ways for new infections to cross continents and seas. In addition to new strains of influenza and the spread of resistant microorganisms, in the last ten years we’ve seen the emergence of new serious respiratory infections like MERS and SARS. Old infections, like tuberculosis, are back. And once-defeated vaccine-preventable diseases have returned to many communities, especially where vaccine uptake has fallen.
Germs have been around far longer than we have, and they will patiently wait for us to drop our defenses. We will not win this battle anytime soon. But we can still fight back:
- Prevent mosquito-borne infections by preventing mosquito bites. Keep them off of your skin and out of your yard.
- Continue to fund a strong public health infrastructure to track and identify health risks. We need to continue to pay attention, not just here, but throughout the world.
- Advocate for universal vaccination of all children. It is always better to prevent infections than treat them. Vaccines need to be a public health priority, and no child should be denied vaccines because of financial reasons. Parents who are scared of vaccines because of misinformation need to hear the truth from friends, relatives, and their doctors.