Researcher says precautions should be taken to avoid a chikungunya outbreak in the US

July 10, 2014 by Lindsey Elliott, Kansas State University

Cases of chikungunya continue to rise, with more than 100 people from the United States infected with the mosquito-borne virus that they contracted while out of the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Kansas State University's Stephen Higgs, one of the world's leading researchers of the and director of the university's Biosecurity Research Institute, says precautions should be taken to avoid a chikungunya outbreak in the U.S.

Higgs has been studying chikungunya for almost 10 years, and he and his collaborators have published 30 works on the virus. They also produced an infectious clone of the disease that is widely used by other researchers, and they are assisting with efforts to develop a vaccine for chikungunya.

"The concern is that the two types of mosquito that transmit , Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, are widely distributed in the United States," Higgs said. "There is potential that somebody could come from overseas not knowing they are infected with the virus, because it takes a few days between getting infected and getting sick. If they unknowingly bring the disease to the United States, our mosquitoes could feed on these people when they have the virus in their blood and pick up the virus. Then we would have transmission in the United States."

Chikungunya is an African Makonde word that means "to bend up." It describes a crippling arthritis that can be so intense that it actually causes the person to bend up in pain, Higgs said. No vaccine or treatment for the virus is available and it can take days, weeks or sometimes longer to go away.

"Most of the people who get infected do get sick, unfortunately," Higgs said. "The fatality rate is relatively low, but has seemingly increased over the last few years for reasons we don't know."

The infectious potential of the virus also has increased, according to Higgs' research.

"One of the really strange things that happened with this virus when it got into the Indian Ocean is that it started being transmitted by the Asian tiger mosquito," Higgs said. "It was known that this mosquito could transmit the virus. What my group of researchers proved was that a single-point mutation occurred in the that altered the surface of the virus, making it 100 times more infectious for that particular mosquito."

The virus was first discovered in the 1950s in Tanzania. Since then, there have been outbreaks in India, Asia, the French islands and most recently in the Caribbean.

According to the CDC, the best way to prevent getting the virus is to not get bitten by mosquitoes. That means to avoid going outside at dusk and at dawn, when mosquito activity is high; use repellant when you do go outside; and get rid of standing water around your house, such as in potted plants, because this is a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Also check the CDC website for information before traveling to infected areas. If you think you may have been infected, contact your doctor.

Explore further: Chikungunya virus spreads to Peru

Related Stories

Chikungunya virus spreads to Peru

June 24, 2014
Peru on Monday reported its first cases of the chikungunya virus, in two people who recently traveled to the Dominican Republic, authorities said.

Chikungunya virus spreads from Caribbean to C. America

June 21, 2014
The mosquito-born chikungunya virus is spreading into Central America, health authorities there say, after outbreaks in several Caribbean nations.

Study shows chikungunya mutation places several countries at risk of epidemic

June 16, 2014
For the first time, University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston researchers were able to predict further adaptations of the chikungunya virus that recently spread from Africa to several continents that will likely result ...

US Virgin Islands confirms first chikungunya case (Update)

June 11, 2014
A nasty mosquito-borne virus that has been spreading rapidly in the Caribbean has made its way to the U.S. Virgin Islands, authorities said Wednesday.

Guyana confirms more cases of virus new to region

June 5, 2014
A mosquito-borne virus that has been spreading fast since the first locally transmitted case in the Western Hemisphere has infected at least 12 more people in Guyana.

The chikungunya virus and its risk to Australia

October 14, 2013
Chikungunya is a virus transmitted to people by mosquitoes; it usually causes a non-fatal but debilitating illness.

Recommended for you

Fresh approach to tuberculosis vaccine offers better protection

January 17, 2018
A unique platform that resulted in a promising HIV vaccine has also led to a new, highly effective vaccine against tuberculosis that is moving toward testing in humans.

Study reveals how MRSA infection compromises lymphatic function

January 17, 2018
Infections of the skin or other soft tissues with the hard-to-treat MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) bacteria appear to permanently compromise the lymphatic system, which is crucial to immune system function. ...

Newly-discovered TB blood signal provides early warning for at-risk patients

January 17, 2018
Tuberculosis can be detected in people with HIV infection via a unique blood signal before symptoms appear, according to a new study by researchers from the Crick, Imperial College London and the University of Cape Town.

New study validates clotting risk factors in chronic kidney disease

January 17, 2018
In late 2017, researchers from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) discovered and published (Science Translational Medicine, (9) 417, Nov 2017) a potential treatment target to prevent chronic kidney disease (CKD) ...

New study offers insights on genetic indicators of COPD risk

January 16, 2018
Researchers have discovered that genetic variations in the anatomy of the lungs could serve as indicators to help identify people who have low, but stable, lung function early in life, and those who are particularly at risk ...

Previous influenza virus exposures enhance susceptibility in another influenza pandemic

January 16, 2018
While past exposure to influenza A viruses often builds immunity to similar, and sometimes different, strains of the virus, Canadian researchers are calling for more attention to exceptions to that rule.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.