Chikungunya Disease in NYC? Warming Could Make it Happen

Chikungunya disease in NYC? Warming could make it happen

Virus causes severe joint pain, is spread by two mosquito species

Image: Asian tiger mosquito

James Gathany  /  CDC

The Asian tiger mosquito is one of two mosquito species that can carry the chikungunya disease.
By Wynne Parry

updated 5/9/2012 2:48:48 PM ET
NEW YORK — The name of the disease, chikungunya, means “that which bends” in an African language, and it describes the posture of its victims, bent over by severe joint pain.

Once a sporadic problem in Africa and Asia, this viral disease has been expanding its range since 2004, even spreading within Italy. And, with some help from global warming, New York City could be next, Laura Harrington, a medical entomologist at Cornell University warned on Tuesday here at Cornell.

Chikungunya causes severe joint pain, fever, rash and other symptoms that can last for months, even years, and in unusual cases, death. There is no vaccine and no treatment. [Poll: Do You Fear New Diseases? ]

The virus on its own can’t travel across continents or even between victims. It partners with two mosquito species that spread the virus among hosts when they suck blood. One of these insects, the Asian tiger mosquito, is already living in temperate regions, including the New York area.

The Asian tiger mosquito is believed to have arrived in the United States in the mid-1980s, possibly in tires, Harrington said. In a laboratory experiment, she found 80 percent of a strain of Asian tiger mosquitoes in the New York/New Jersey area were able to pick up the virus and transmit it in their saliva.

This is where climate change comes in. The mosquito benefits from warmer temperatures, since mild winters make it possible for its eggs to survive the winter, and more of these mosquitoes make it more likely that an infection brought in by a traveler could spread. (Read more)

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