Monday, September 21, 2009

Meet Your New Friend....

Aedes albopictus,
The Asian tiger Mosquito

The media has a tendency to look for the 'next big thing'. In terms of infectious diseases, this could be it for Europe and the Americas. It's a virus more exciting than West Nile--it's called the Chikungunya virus. It means "that which bends up". I can imagine news reporters stumbling over the name even as I type.

The virus has been around since at least 1952 when it was discovered in Tanzania. Since 2005, the disease has spread to India, Italy, France and the French Island of Reunion. The Asian tiger mosquito, the vector used by this virus (meaning the way the virus is spread), is already found in Asia, Africa, Europe, the Americas, Australia and New Zealand. Within the United States, the mosquito can be found in most southern states, New Jersey, Texas and Minnesota. Like most infectious diseases, our ability to move quickly from country to country via air travel increases the risk that the virus will spread globally.

Researchers are concerned about this virus because unlike West Nile, where 9 out of 10 infected people will show few, if any, symptoms, Chikungunya will make the vast majority of people extremely ill.

This is a very serious disease. Infection may cause fever, headache, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, muscle pain, rash and joint pain and can even be fatal. Symptoms can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. And of course, there is no vaccine.

Keep your eyes and ears open and your bug spray at hand, as I'm sure we all will be hearing much more about this virus in the weeks and months to come.

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