It is impossible to deny that we live in a globalized society. A huge portion of the things we use every day, from clothes to coffee, and fruit to beer, are imported from all over the planet. Especially in the West, sitting at the center of a globalized economy means access to all kinds of products from around the world.
Unfortunately, there’s a dark side to this kind of connection with the rest of the world – diseases carried by bacteria, viruses, and fungi travel the same routes that consumer goods do. While modern medicine and sanitation practices generally prevents these foreign diseases from spreading, every once in a while, something slips through the cracks and ends up here.
One of these diseases is the Chikungunya virus, which through afflicted mosquitoes has recently arrived in Florida and is sporadically affecting communities throughout the Southern states. This article is an overview of the virus and how it can be combated.
What is Chikungunya?
Chikungunya is a virus with its origins in Africa. Its name is Mokande (the language of the Mokande people who are an ethnic group found in Tanzania and Mozambique) for “that which bends up,” referring to the joint pain that is a common symptom of the virus.
Chikungunya is primarily carried in animals such as monkeys, birds, cattle, and rodents, and is spread to humans (like many diseases are) through mosquito bites and intermingling blood.
The disease was spotted in the Caribbean last year, and then made landfall in Florida with its first reported case in the United States in late 2014.
The onset of Chikungunya is characterized by a fever lasting about two days. This is then followed by joint pain in the extremities from which the virus draws its name.
Other common symptoms include headaches, muscle pain, joint swelling, and a rash that is identified by its small red points.
Chikungunya has a mortality rate of 1 in 1000, but it can cause health complications in the elderly and people with existing medical conditions, particularly arthritis, which can be exacerbated by Chikungunya.
In very rare cases, chikungunya can last years, but chronic cases are largely the exception and most don’t last longer than a month.
Spread of vector
Like a lot of diseases, the Chikungunya virus is spread to humans by mosquitoes. In particular, two similar-looking species of mosquito are responsible: Aedes albopictus (also known as Asian Tiger Mosquito) and Aedes aegypti, which cheerfully is known as the yellow fever mosquito.
The greatest method of preventing Chikungunya, like malaria, yellow fever, and other diseases is mosquito prevention. Netting, spraying pesticides, and treating mosquito breeding habitats is the best way to avoid Chikungunya virus and other diseases also spread by mosquitoes.
Infection threat increases
Although it is unlikely that the Chikungunya virus will become an epidemic, there are still concerns about its spread in North and Central America.
Recently, the British government with the co-operation of the Panamanian government released genetically modified Aedes albopictus mosquitoes that were designed to reduce the population by spreading un-viable genes into the population. This was aimed to reduce the prevalence of these mosquitoes, which are the primary carriers of dengue fever.
However, one possible result of this is that Aedes aegypti, a very similar type of mosquito and a carrier for Chikungunya virus (but not dengue fever) will ecologically take the place of the waning Aedes albopictus population, and we will see a spike in Chikungunya infections as a result.
Whether this actually happens remains to be seen, but one thing remains as true as it’s ever been: getting rid of mosquitoes is a good idea.
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