Forget Ebola! Chikungunya Virus Creeping Into Southern United States

Ebola panic has spread all the way to the United States, even though the possibility of it actually spreading across American shores is dismally low. People might be better off preparing for the chikungunya virus, which has been reported several times throughout the southern United States — including a third case recently reported in the Dallas area, according to CBS.

Chikungunya virus has hit the hardest in the Central American and Caribbean countries of El Salvador and the Dominican Republican. Although exact number are unavailable for the Dominican, El Salvadorian officials are reporting that there are currently 30,000 cases of the chikungunya in the country, said Fox News Latino. The high number of citizens infected with the chikungunya virus is especially troubling because of its quick rate of growth — only 2,300 citizens were infected at the beginning of August, marking a more than 10-fold increase in less than two months.

While the chikungunya virus is typically not fatal, it is an extremely painful affliction. Those who catch the Chikungunya virus report joint pain so grave that it becomes difficult to walk. Catalino Castillo, a 39-year-old El Salvadorian infected with the chikungunya virus described the symptoms as unbearable.

“The pain is unbelievable. It’s been 10 days and it won’t let up.”

Experts say the chikungunya virus does indeed have the potential to spread much further in the U.S., particularly in states like Florida that have a similar climate to the Caribbean and share a close proximity to the region. Scott C. Weaver, director of the Institute for Human Infections and Immunity at the University of Texas Medical Branch, cautioned that chikungunya virus can terrorize any areas where the aedes aegypti mosquito is found and the local population does not have a natural immunity built up over time.

“There are going to be some very large populations at risk down there, much larger than the Caribbean.”

Not every medical scientist is raising red flags though. When speaking with online medical journal Medscape, Robert Lanciotti, PhD, doubted that the United States could become seriously over-run with the chikungunya virus based on how the similar dengue virus was contained when it previously threatened the region.

“I do not think that chikungunya will become established in the northern hemisphere. I think it will closely follow the pattern of dengue virus. With only a few exceptions in recent history, we have only isolated imported cases [in the United States,] and dengue is not endemic.”

Why chikungunya virus may not be as deadly as ebola, people in the southern U.S. should take preventative measures due to the possibility of infection, says Lanciotti.

“The most important way to protect yourself from chikungunya is to keep mosquitoes out of your house. Here in the US, the main reason we don’t think we’re going to see major outbreaks is because people air condition their houses, or at least have screens that keep mosquitoes out.”

[Image via Wikipedia]