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Tropical Virus
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Chikungunya Mosquito Is Moving North

By James Donahue

Our warming planet and the changing climate continues to invite more invasive insects and the diseases they carry northward across the United States. This year, people in southern states may be dealing with chikungunya, a nasty and sometimes deadly virus carried by at least two species of mosquitoes that are making their way northward from the Caribbean.

This is the same mosquito known to carry other serious viruses, including dengue fever. These mosquitoes bite during daylight hours, with peaks of activity in the early morning or late afternoon.

The strange name chikungunya means to bend up, which somewhat describes the pain that strikes people infected by this virus. The symptoms are a sudden onset of fever and debilitating joint pain. Other symptoms may include muscle pain, headache, nausea, fatigue and rash.

The worst of the pain is usually over after a few days, but sometimes the joint pain persists for weeks, months or even years. Most patients recover fully. Complications, especially in older people, sometimes result in death.

The disease originated in Africa, Asia and Europe, but in late 2013 the virus was detected in the Caribbean for the first time. In just one year there were over 20,000 cases recorded in that region. Health officials say it is only a matter of time before the virus breaks out in the United States. The southeastern states will probably be hit first.

The CDC says chikungunya fever has reached epidemic levels since 2004 and has now spread to 40 countries.

There is no cure for this virus although health authorities are working hard to produce a vaccine.