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Painful Tropical Disease Arrives in Americas

FILE - Entomologists Walter Tabachnick (L) and Roxanne Connelly consult computer images of the chikungunya virus at the Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory in Vero Beach.
A painful mosquito-borne disease found in Africa and Asia has been found for the first time in the Americas.

The World Health Organization is reporting two cases of chikungunya in the French part of the Caribbean island of Saint Martin.

The disease causes a high fever and headache, along with severe joint pain that can persist for weeks.

It is rarely fatal, but there is no treatment or vaccine for chikungunya.

Major outbreaks struck Gabon, India and islands in the Indian Ocean in the mid-2000s, according to the World Health Organization.

It spread within Europe for the first time in 2007 with a localized outbreak in Italy.

Peter Hotez dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College, expects to see chikungunya in the southern United States soon.

“The mosquitoes are here. That’s an important factor. Second, there may be some component of global warming," said Hotez.

And, Hotez adds, the mosquitoes carrying the disease accompany urbanization and poverty, two conditions on the rise in the southern U.S.
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    Steve Baragona

    Steve Baragona is an award-winning multimedia journalist covering science, environment and health.

    He spent eight years in molecular biology and infectious disease research before deciding that writing about science was more fun than doing it. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a master’s degree in journalism in 2002.