I have been waiting for this moment for several years…once I first heard that the Chikungunya virus (CHIKV) was moving up into Europe (France and Italy) from Africa. It made sense to me that it would travel into the America’s and then ultimately into the US. On Friday the CDC issued the siren call.

First of all, I must confess when I say the name out loud – Chikungunya – it sounds more like a clothing designer than a mosquito borne illness but it is just that. The Chikungunya virus (CHIKV) is an arthropod-virus that is transmitted to humans by the virus-carrying Aedes mosquito. There have been recent breakouts of CHIKV associated with severe illness.

Learn how to pronounce it here – believe me, you will need some help!… http://www.merriam-webster.com/cgi-bin/audio.pl?chiku01m.wav=chikungunya

CHIKV infection causes an illness with symptoms similar to dengue fever with an acute high fever phase of the illness lasting two to five days, followed by a prolonged joint pain that affects the joints of the extremities. The pain associated with CHIKV infection of the joints persists for weeks or months, or in some cases years.

The WHO announced on December 10 that a dozen people on the tiny Caribbean island of St Martin have been infected with the chikungunya virus. It is the first time the mosquito-borne virus is known to have spread in the Americas. Eight years ago it spread beyond Africa, where it originated, to Eurasia. Now it has crossed the planet – and could already be more widespread than health agencies expect

Chikungunya is rarely lethal, but it is painful and can cause chronic, debilitating joint pain. On reaching Asia, it spread rapidly and made millions ill, as people had no immunity. A few experimental treatments and vaccines exist but none has left the research lab.

Two years ago, when the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), a public health agency that works in all countries in the Americas, drew up a plan for the arrival of the mosquito/virus it warned that the Americas could face the same situation as Asia. “The resulting large outbreaks would likely tax existing health-care systems and the public health infrastructure,” it said, “and could potentially cripple some of society’s functioning.”

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), also noted that the virus could be other places that just French St Martin – “The extent of the outbreak is difficult to assess and might have remained undetected… on other islands.” French St Martin may simply have spotted chikungunya first.

CDC is alerting health care professionals that the Chikungunya virus infection should be considered in patients with acute onset of fever and multiple joint pain, especially those who have recently traveled to the Caribbean. Healthcare providers are encouraged to report suspected chikungunya cases to their state or local health department to facilitate diagnosis and to mitigate the risk of local transmission.

Treatment

No specific antiviral treatment is available for chikungunya fever. Treatment is generally palliative and can include rest, fluids, and use of analgesics and antipyretics. Because of similar geographic distribution and symptoms, patients with suspected chikungunya virus infections also should be evaluated and managed for possible dengue virus infection. People infected with chikungunya or dengue virus should be protected from further mosquito exposure during the first few days of illness to prevent other mosquitoes from becoming infected and reduce the risk of local transmission.

Prevention

No vaccine or preventive drug is available. The best way to prevent chikungunya virus infection is to avoid mosquito bites. Use air conditioning or screens when indoors. Use insect repellents and wear long sleeves and pants when outdoors. People at increased risk for severe disease should consider not traveling to areas with ongoing chikungunya outbreaks.

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn24757-threatwatch-chikungunya-virus-spreads-in-the-americas.htm

http://www.cdc.gov/chikungunya/