After less than a year in the Americas, an African disease is ravaging Latin America and, as sun-resistant mosquitoes spread the virus to more than one million people, the U.S. remains threatened by the alien affliction.
The disease: chikungunya.
Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which transmit dengue fever as well as chikungunya, stand in a cage to be examined by scientists at the Gorgas Memorial Institute for Health Studies in Panama City, Friday, Sept. 26, 2014. Chikungunya is a word that comes from the Makonde language of Tanzania and translates roughly as “that which bends up,” in reference to the severe arthritis-like ache in the joints that causes sufferers to contort with pain. It’s usually accompanied by a spiking fever and headache. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)
TheBlaze has previously reported on the danger chikungunya poses to the U.S., and as the Associated Press reported Saturday, the disease has spread massively throughout the Caribbean this summer:
The epidemic has overwhelmed hospitals, cut economic productivity and caused its sufferers days of pain and misery. And the count of victims is soaring.
In El Salvador, health officials report nearly 30,000 suspected cases, up from 2,300 at the beginning of August, and hospitals are filled with people with the telltale signs of the illness, including joint pain so severe it can be hard to walk.
"The pain is unbelievable," said Catalino Castillo, a 39-year-old seeking treatment at a San Salvador hospital. "It's been 10 days and it won't let up."
Venezuelan officials reported at least 1,700 cases as of Friday, and the number is expected to rise. Neighboring Colombia has around 4,800 cases but the health ministry projects there will be nearly 700,000 by early 2015. Brazil has now recorded its first locally transmitted cases, which are distinct from those involving people who contracted the virus while traveling in an infected area.
Hardest hit has been the Dominican Republic, with half the cases reported in the Americas. According to the Pan American Health Organization, chikungunya has spread to at least two dozen countries and territories across the Western Hemisphere since the first case was registered in French St. Martin in late 2013.
There have been a few locally transmitted cases in the U.S., all in Florida, and it has the potential to spread farther, experts say, but Central and South America are particularly vulnerable. The chief factors are the prevalence of the main vector for the virus, the aedes aegypti mosquito, and the lack of immunity in a population that hasn't been hit with chikungunya in modern medical history, said Scott C. Weaver, director of the Institute for Human Infections and Immunity at the University of Texas Medical Branch.
"There are going to be some very large populations at risk down there, much larger than the Caribbean," Weaver said.
A Panama Health Ministry worker fumigates around abandoned cars in the Tocumen neighborhood, as part of a prevention program against dengue fever and the mosquito-borne virus chikungunya, on the outskirts of Panama City, Saturday, Sept. 6, 2014. Zones near the Panamanian capital were fumigated after three cases of the chikungunya fever were detected. Chikungunya, which has long been present in Africa and Asia, was first detected in the Caribbean in December. Deriving its name from an African word that loosely translates as "contorted with pain," chikungunya is rarely fatal, but those who have contracted the virus call it a miserable experience. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)
The disease might not be curable, but there's one saving grace: As the AP noted, people who are infected by the excruciating disease (which is usually not fatal) typically develop immunity to later infection.
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