Three cases of a mosquito-borne virus that can be relatively disabling have been confirmed in Long Island according to the New York State health department.
Chikungunya (pronounced chik-en-gun-yuh), a virus generally found in Africa, Asia and Europe, was diagnosed in three patients at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset. All three people, unrelated, had recently travelled to the Caribbean where they were exposed to mosquitos carrying the virus.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the chikungunya virus was found in the Americas on Caribbean islands for the first time in late 2013. It can cause fever, acute joint pain, headaches, muscle pain, and skin rashes. Younger people can recover from the virus within weeks but with the elderly, joint pain can last months and even years.
Till recently, those who were infected had caught the virus while travelling. New York State has already reported 20 such cases this year. However, the virus can be imported to new areas by infected travelers. Just last week, Florida health officials found two cases of chikungunya fever that were locally acquired.
“We take the findings of local transmission of chikungunya virus seriously and are working closely with mosquito control officials to prevent additional human disease cases,” said Sheri Hutchinson, spokesperson for the Florida Department of Health.
What sets Chikungunya apart from West Nile is its high rate of infection said Dr. Bruce Hirsch, an infectious disease specialist at North Shore University Hospital. “With West Nile, 80 percent of people exposed don’t show symptoms. With chikungunya, less than 10 percent would be resistant,” he said. But West Nile spreads faster as it is carried by birds. Chikungunya is transmitted from one human to the other via mosquito, limiting its range.
A spokesperson from the New York State health department confirmed that one of the two mosquito species that can transmit Chikungunya has been detected in the southeastern region of the State, including Long Island. But Hirsh maintains that New York City does not have much to fear from it in the coming years.