Tuesday, July 08, 2014

"Chikungunya" virus, spread by certain mosquitoes, is in 27 states with a small, but growing, number of cases; models a dreaded public health problem from the past

There’s a “new disease” of sorts, spread by some species (aeges) of mosquitoes, called “chikungunya”, with symptoms including rash, mouth sores,  fever, and severe joint pain, which can become prolonged. 
The greatest threats seem to be in southeastern US (from Texas east) and possibly coastal New England.  NPR has a story about the virus here  and CNN (Val Willingham) here  with a video.
There are no special precautions other than sprays and long sleeves, and avoiding allowing water to stand near your home or in areas you visit.  (That can be difficult after heavy rains.)
There is no treatment and no vaccine, and one can wonder why we don’t have the ability to develop vaccines more quickly. But Wikipedia says that some work on a vaccine goes on (story).  The virus is an RNA virus, but the symptoms seem to resemble those of some DNA herpes viruses.  The virus has been researched as a potential biological weapon. CDC's page is low-key, however. 
The total number of cases in the US seems small, but could be increasing rapidly.  It has spread to 27 states.  The virus seems to have come to the US threw infected travelers who get bitten, who then transfer the virus to others. (The arbovirus idea if applied to STD’s is indeed scary,but has never been confirmed; the religious right tried to exploit such speculation with HIV politically in the 1980s.)

The disease could be important to faith-based groups that send volunteers (including teens and young adults and students) to missions or on humanitarian work in low-income tropical areas, like the West Indies, Central America, SE Asia, India, or Africa (from where the virus seems to have originated).    

Some have compared the virus to West Nile, for which there have been 40000 cases in the US since 1999. 

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