A mosquito-borne virus that can cause debilitating joint pain lasting for years has spread to the continental U.S. after infecting hundreds of thousands of people in the Caribbean and Central America.
The virus is called Chikungunya, an African name meaning “to become contorted.” While the illness, first identified in Tanzania in 1952, has long bedeviled Africa and Asia, the only recorded cases in the U.S. before July involved patients who contracted the virus abroad.
Now, 11 cases have been confirmed as originating in Florida, spurring concern this may be the beginning of the type of explosive growth seen elsewhere from a disease that has no vaccine or cure. Medical and environmental experts are debating how best to quell the outbreak before it takes off.
“In a way it’s surprising it hasn’t been here yet,” said Scott Weaver, a professor at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.
Patients who contract Chikungunya have joint swelling and pain, fever, headache and rash for about a week, though some symptoms last months or years in some patients, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.