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article imageNew mosquito-borne virus spreads to Central and South America

By Karen Graham     Sep 27, 2014 in Health
The pain associated with the Chikungunya virus can be excruciating and last for days. The disease causes a debilitating illness that can overwhelm health care facilities and cut into economic productivity. Health officials are now on high alert.
Health officials in Central and South America have raised the alert as the number of cases of Chikungunya disease has climbed at an alarming rate. The mosquito-borne virus has leaped from the Caribbean to the Central and South American mainland with lightening-like speed, infecting more than one million people.
Similar to Dengue fever, another mosquito-borne virus, Chikungunya fever is caused by the bite of the Aedes aegypti mosquito. One of the worrisome problems with this new virus is its virulence. Scott C. Weaver, the director of the Institute for Human Infections and Immunity at the University of Texas says the virus has hit a population with no immunity to the disease.
According to the Pan American Health Organization, the hardest hit country is the Dominican Republic, with half of all the cases reported in the Americas. The Chikungunya virus has spread to over 24 countries in the Western Hemisphere since it was first reported in French St. Martin in late 2013.
According to the Associated Press, El Salvador now has 30,000 cases, up from 2,300 in August. Hospitals are filled with victims, some with joint pain so severe they can hardly walk. "The pain is unbelievable," said Catalino Castillo, a 39-year-old seeking treatment at a San Salvador hospital. "It's been 10 days and it won't let up."
In Venezuela, health officials are reporting at least 1,700 cases, with numbers expected to rise. In neighboring Colombia, the health ministry has reported 4,800 cases. Officials there are projecting the number of cases to rise to over 700,000 by 2015. In far away Brazil, they have now recorded their first locally contracted Chikungunya disease.
The continental United States has had only two locally contracted cases, both occurring in Florida. The CDC reported in July that 398 cases in the U.S. were contracted outside the country. "With the recent outbreaks in the Caribbean and the Pacific, the number of chikungunya cases among travelers visiting or returning to the United States from affected areas will continue to increase," the CDC said.
The economic impact to affected countries could prove to be devastating, not only because of absenteeism from work, but from overwhelmed health care systems. Then there is the cost of pesticides used to control the mosquito population, and this alone, could be enormous.
Chikungunya is a word from the Makonde language in Tanzania, and means "that which bends up." The meaning is in reference to the excruciating joint pain that causes those infected to contort their bodies in agony. The virus is spread by two species of mosquitos, Aedes albopictus and Aedes aegypti. The disease has been well known in Africa and Asia for years.
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