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

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More