As if Queens residents don’t have enough to worry about with those pesky mosquitoes who carry West Nile virus, now there’s another virus also spread by the insects that’s heading our way and there’s no cure.
But not to fear. The chikungunya virus is not deadly, although it can be very painful, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
Discovered in Tanzania in 1954, the virus is a Kimakonde tribe word which refers to the joint pain suffered by those infected. It is spread by two types of mosquitoes, one of which, the Asian tiger mosquito, is active in New York.
Patients usually get over the virus in a week, treated with pain killers only. There is no vaccine. Some patients, however, suffer long-term pain.
The city Department of Health issued the following statement regarding the virus: “We have not seen local transmission of chikungunya virus in New York City, but continue to monitor mosquitoes across the city as part of our Comprehensive Mosquito Surveillance and Control Plan.
“New Yorkers can protect themselves by: using air conditioning on windows or door screens to keep mosquitoes outside; using mosquito repellents; wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants, weather permitting; and removing standing water from property to cut down on potential mosquito breeding sites. Call 311 to report standing water that you cannot remove.”
The influx in the United States is due to an epidemic that started last year in the Caribbean.
On July 22, Joel Peralta, a Tampa Bay Rays pitcher was placed on the 15-day disabled list after coming down with the virus. He recently spent time in his native Dominican Republic, where the illness is active.
Although numbers change frequently, the CDC reports 497 cases in the United States. Florida has the most with 77 cases, due to its closeness to the Caribbean, and New York follows with 30.
On Friday, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) urged the CDC to issue health alerts to doctors and nurses in the United States, which would include clear descriptions of symptoms, the best palliative treatments, as well as ways to contain the virus. For example, once an individual is infected, it’s recommended that they wear bug spray in order to keep mosquitoes from biting them and passing it to others.
Schumer also wants the Department of Homeland Security to declare a “public emergency” for chikungunya, similar to the alert issued when the swine flu hit Mexico in 2009.
The senator issued a warning after the June World Cup in Brazil, fearing people would bring the virus back with them, and now after it was learned that three residents of Long Island had contracted travel-related cases of the illness. Aside from swollen joints, symptoms can include muscle pain, headaches, joint swelling and rashes.
“Chikungunya has now officially reached Long Island, and the feds must act before this debilitating virus spreads further and takes hold in New York,” Schumer said. “There are a number of ways that chik-v can be treated and contained, and it is critical that the CDC issue a health alert so that doctors can be on the lookout for this virus, better identify and treat symptoms and prevent its spread.”
Like West Nile virus, chikungunya is not transmitted from human to human, just through mosquito bites.
“The arrival of chikungunya virus, first in the tropical Americas and now in the United States, underscores the risks posed by this and other exotic pathogens,” said Roger Nasci of the CDC in a prepared statement.
The West Nile virus was first discovered in the United States in College Point 15 years ago. Since then, it has spread across the United States. Constant monitoring of mosquitoes and sprayings, coupled with educating the public on how to protect themselves, has seen a sharp reduction in cases.
The West Nile virus is spread by culex pipiens mosquitoes, which are most active in late August and September. The DOH has reported finding infected mosquitoes and has sprayed in marshy ares of Staten Island and Queens. No human cases have been reported yet.