New mosquito-borne virus gaining foothold on American soil thanks to climate change

By Scott Kaufman
Thursday, July 3, 2014 11:59 EDT
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mosquito biting via shutterstock
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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a mosquito-borne virus once confined to Asia and Africa is making its way to American shores.

Chikungunya first arrived in the Western Hemisphere last year, where it sickened over 250,00 people in the Caribbean. One-hundred and twelve Americans who traveled there were also stricken by the virus, which causes severe fevers and joint pains.

The CDC claims that the symptoms are very similar to another mosquito-borne disease, dengue fever — and like dengue fever, the only available treatment is to alleviate the symptoms via fever reducers and pain medicine.

The initial fever typically lasts between two to five days, followed by a longer period of time — sometimes, up to years — of often crippling musculoskeletal pain. The word chikungunya is thought to originate in the Makonde language, spoken in the south eastern part of African, and means “that which bends up,” a reference to the contorted postures that individuals inflicted with the disease often adopt.

Roger Nasci of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told NPR that “we are worried about chikungunya in the U.S. In fact, we expect that over the course of the next months or years — as this virus spreads through the American tropics, and we see more travelers coming into the U.S — we will see local transmission.”

Since June 11, 2014, at least 44 cases of chikungunya have been reported in the Southeastern United States, with at least 42 confirmed cases in Florida.

Researchers from Yale wrote in The Courant that climate change may be responsible for the virus’s appearance.

“The Asian tiger mosquito has evolved to continue breeding despite the shorter day length of autumn,” they wrote. “This translates into more generations per season, more mosquitoes and more time to transmit the virus along the East Coast. The situation is reminiscent of 1999, when West Nile virus first appeared in New York City.”

["Mosquito Biting" via Shutterstock]

Scott Kaufman
Scott Kaufman
Scott Eric Kaufman is the proprietor of the AV Club's Internet Film School and, in addition to Raw Story, also writes for Lawyers, Guns & Money. He earned a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of California, Irvine in 2008.
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