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Mosquito-borne illness hits USA

6/13/2014

USA Today
By Aamer Madhani

​State health officials across the USA report a surge of suspected cases of a painful mosquito-borne illness that can leave those infected with severe joint pain that can make walking or even shaking hands unbearable.

All but one American suspected of contracting the disease known as chikungunya had recently traveled to the Caribbean. The first case of the disease being transmitted on U.S. soil was confirmed in Puerto Rico late last month.

Infectious disease experts say conditions are ripe for the illness to explode in a large swath of the USA where two mosquito species known to spread the disease are in abundance.

"It's not a matter of if but when," said James Crowe, a pediatric infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

The disease was discovered in Africa more than 60 years ago and was detected in the Caribbean late last year. About 135,000 people have been suspected or confirmed infected in the Western Hemisphere — mostly in the Caribbean — since last year, according to the Pan American Health Organization.

The symptoms of chikungunya — which is derived from the Kimakonde language and roughly translates as "to become contorted" — include fever, muscle pain, headache, nausea, fatigue and rash. The disease shares some clinical symptoms with dengue and is often misdiagnosed in areas where dengue is common.

The disease, which has no known cure, is less lethal than mosquito-borne illness West Nile virus. The joint pain can be excruciating, and debilitating symptoms usually last days and sometimes weeks.

In recent weeks, state health officials have reported that American travelers to the Caribbean from Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Nebraska, New York, Nevada, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia have been stricken with symptoms consistent with chikungunya. Wednesday, officials in the U.S. Virgin Islands reported a locally transmitted case of the disease.

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