These outbreaks represent the first time mosquitos in the Americas have been infected and spreading chikungunya to people. There is no cure for the disease and international travel can easily cause a global resurgence in this infectious disease.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control urges health providers to heighten their vigilance against the disease, especially with increased travel during the holiday season.
Since 2004, chikungunya fever has reached epidemic proportions, with considerable morbidity and suffering in Africa, Asia and the Indian subcontinent.
The virus causes similar symptoms as dengue and is often misdiagnosed in areas where dengue is common. The virus is commonly spread through bites from tiny mosquitos that live around buildings in urban areas.
The female Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus are two species of mosquitos that can be found biting especially during daylight hours – both indoors and outdoors.
These bites pose the greatest risk to those who sleep during the daytime, especially young children and the elderly. With no cure, treatment is often only focused on relieving accompanying symptoms.
The World Health Organization’s website describes chikungunya symptoms as “an abrupt onset of fever frequently accompanied by joint pain. Other common signs and symptoms include muscle pain, headache, nausea, fatigue and rash.
“After the bite of an infected mosquito, onset of illness occurs usually between four and eight days but can range from two to 12 days.
“Most patients recover fully, but in some cases joint pain may persist for several months, or even years. Occasional cases of eye, neurological and heart complications have been reported, as well as gastrointestinal complaints.”
Individuals are urged to protect themselves and their families by using insecticide treated mosquito nets, covering exposed skin with long pants and long-sleeved shirts. Insect repellents can also serve as an effective way to prevent mosquito bites.
Dr Cory Couillard is an international health columnist that works in collaboration with the World Health Organization’s goals of disease prevention and control. Views do not necessarily reflect endorsement.