News / Africa

African Viral Disease Spreads

The Asian tiger mosquito, an invasive, disease-carrying pest, may spread to new areas as a result of global warming. The mosquito breeds faster in warmer temperatures. It's a known carrier of the Chikungunya virus. (AP Photo/Jim Newman, University of Flo
The Asian tiger mosquito, an invasive, disease-carrying pest, may spread to new areas as a result of global warming. The mosquito breeds faster in warmer temperatures. It's a known carrier of the Chikungunya virus. (AP Photo/Jim Newman, University of Flo

Multimedia

Audio
Joe DeCapua
 It’s not an illness you hear much about, but it can make a person feel miserable for years. And it’s sometimes fatal. It’s spreading and scientists describe the mosquito-borne disease as a major public health threat around the world.
 
It’s called Chikungunya. The World Health Organization says the name comes from the Kimakonde language spoken along the Mozambique-Tanzania border. It means “to become contorted.” The name describes those suffering from the disease because they are often stooped over.
 
Dr. Scott Weaver, director of the Institute for Human Infections and Immunity at the University of Texas Medical Branch, said, “It’s a mosquito-borne virus. It originated in Africa and still circulates there now. Its original transmission cycle involves mosquitos in forest habitats and non-human primates. That’s the main vertebrae hosts. But periodically it emerges from that cycle into an urban cycle involving people and different kinds of mosquitos.”
 
The most recent emergence from the African cycle, he said, occurred in 2004.
 
“It’s not normally life threatening. There are a few fatal cases. The case fatality rates recently have been estimated at about one in 1,000 people. But even though it’s not normally fatal, it’s a very painful and debilitating disease that can incapacitate people for weeks to months or even pain can persist for years.”
 
And it can be mistaken for other illnesses.
 
 “It starts off like many other flu-like infectious diseases with abrupt onset of fever and headache and body aches. But what distinguishes it from most others is that the pain is focused on the small joints like the hands, the wrists and the ankles. And that’s accompanied by swelling. And the combination of swelling and pain can leave people pretty severely incapacitated,” said Weaver.
 
He said that  Chikungunya is currently circulating in India and many areas of Southeast Asia. But a lack of accurate diagnoses means it’s unclear just how many people there are infected. Cases were reported in northern Italy in 2007 and in southern France in 2010. Late last year, cases were reported in the Caribbean and two countries in South America.

Weaver does not think it will stop there.
 
“I think that we will see some cases in the southern U.S. We can predict, I think fairly well, what will happen with Chikungunya because it’s a very similar disease and transmission cycle to Dengue virus and we have a lot of experience with Dengue. Typically, with dengue, we see cases along the Mexico border and south Texas. And then we see outbreaks of focal transmission from imported, infected travelers in Florida,” he said.
 
There are two different strains of Chikungunya. The strain from eastern Africa in 2004 is able to easily mutate and increase its ability to infect the Asian tiger mosquito. The bloodsucker is found on every continent except Antarctica.
 
Another African strain that emerged in the 1950s is much less able to adapt and infect the Asian tiger mosquito. It’s the one found in the Caribbean. Its inability to adapt could limit its spread. Right now, Its primary vector is the so-called yellow fever mosquito.
 
Climate change and means of transport, like ships, can help spread the disease-carrying mosquitos.
 
There’s no treatment available, just drugs to try to ease the symptoms. However, vaccine research is underway and human clinical trials are about to begin. One of the vaccine candidates was developed at the University of Texas Medical Branch. An effective vaccine against Chikungunya is still years away.

You May Like

Turkish Public Fears Jihadists More Than Kurds

Turkey facing twin threats of terrorism by Islamic State and PKK Kurdish separatists, says President Erdogan’s ruling AK Party More

Video One Year After Massacre, Iraq’s Yazidis a Broken People

Minority community still recovering from devastating assault by IS militants which spurred massive outrage More

‘Malvertisements’ Undermine Internet Trust

Hackers increasingly prey on users' trust of major websites to delivery malicious software More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Communityi
X
Sharon Behn
August 03, 2015 2:23 PM
A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs