Chikungunya virus spreads in Americas, enters U.S. via travelers

By Carol Clark | eScienceCommons | June 18, 2014

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The aggressive tiger mosquito, distinguished by its white stripes, can spread chikungunya virus. This mosquito is native to Southeast Asia but has invaded other parts of the world in recent decades, including much of the United States. Photo by James Gathany/CDC.

As chikungunya virus moves into the Americas for the first time, causing a major outbreak throughout the Caribbean and parts of Central and South America, U.S. health officials are monitoring cases in travelers returning from the affected areas. Imported cases of the mosquito-borne virus have been confirmed in at least 10 U.S. states. The Georgia State Health Department is currently testing a dozen people who reported chikungunya-like symptoms after visiting affected areas, 11 Alive News reports.

"Early response is essential," says Gonzalo Vazquez-Prokopec, a disease ecologist in Emory's Department of Environmental Sciences who studies how mosquito-borne pathogens move through urban populations. "We need to prepare the country to try to avoid what we suffered with the introduction of West Nile virus 10 years ago."

Vazquez-Prokopec and Uriel Kitron, chair of Emory's Department of Environmental Sciences, have been studying the patterns of vector-borne disease epidemics for years and are currently working with public health officials in other parts of the Americas and Africa on chikungunya control efforts.

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