With the difficult winter that many Americans faced this year, spring came as welcome relief. Many people just want to prepare for the months of outdoor activity afforded by warm weather, leaving memories of snow, rain, and cold temperatures behind. However, as the rains and snow fell, mosquitoes hibernated. They are now poised for an unprecedented season of people-feeding, and this year there is a new health threat from their bites: an incurable virus called chikungunya. Once you know what it is, you'll take aggressive steps to prevent mosquitoes from biting you and your family.
No, this isn't about chickens
Chikungunya has nothing to do with chickens. The name means "to become contorted," and refers to the severe joint pain that afflicts its sufferers. Chikungunya is transmitted by the bite of two mosquitoes, Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, the same pests who bring us dengue fever. These mosquitoes, unlike the ones that transmit malaria, are quite aggressive and bite primarily during daylight hours.
Until about two years ago, chikungunya was only found in Africa, Asia, and Europe. However, late in 2013 cases popped up in the Caribbean--and quickly spread to 44 countries in the Americas, resulting in 1.2 million cases of the disease. By the end of 2014, chikungunya appeared in the United States. The CDC reports there were 2,492 cases in the U.S in 2014. Eleven of these were locally transmitted in Florida, meaning that people were bitten by infected mosquitoes in that area rather than returning to the country after having been infected somewhere else. With the mosquitoes that transmit the virus living in southern and western states, as well as the eastern seaboard--and the huge increase of insects expected after this unusually wet winter--health officials are quite concerned.
Symptoms of chikungunya
People bitten by infected mosquitoes begin to show symptoms of the disease after 3-7 days. About 90% of those bitten will become ill. Early symptoms appear suddenly and are much like the flu:
joint pain, which can be severe and extremely painful
A rash may accompany these symptoms. Many people recover in about a week, although some require hospitalization for the severity of the joint pain. Additionally, some people experience excruciating pain for months after being infected. There is no cure for the virus, and no vaccine is yet available. Treatment involves pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medications.
Keeping chikungunya away
As temperatures warm, be aware of mosquitoes you sight in your neighborhood. If you see the characteristically white-striped Aedes mosquito, notify your local health department. Further, do what you can to eliminate the threat of infection, such as
emptying all sources of standing water (these insects need less than an inch in which to breed)
wearing mosquito repellent when engaging in outdoor activities
ensuring all your windows are properly screened
If you notice mosquito activity in your neighborhood, contact a professional pest control company, like Heritage Pest Control, to inspect your yard and spray it with a pesticide. An ounce of prevention just may protect you against the "ouch" of a virus with no cure.