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Are We Prepared For The Next Viral Disease Threat?

Robert GalloFred Shaw went to St. Martin and all he got was a painful virus called chikungunya.

On an island stop during his Caribbean cruise vacation, Mr. Shaw was infected with the mosquito-borne virus that causes a severe fever and an arthritis-like condition in people, similar to dengue fever.  After infection, the virus still may cause long periods of fatigue and incapacitating joint pain.

Writing on Facebook, Mr. Shaw said, “The fever, leg rash and swelling were bad enough, but then followed by months of headache, joint pain and malaise, I finally have gotten over it (I think).”

Chikungunya virus was first described during an outbreak in Tanzania in 1952 and was subsequently discovered in other parts of Africa and Asia. The name ‘chikungunya’ is derived from a local phrase that means ‘that which bends up’ and describes the stooped appearance of sufferers with joint pain.

In late 2013, chikungunya was found for the first time in modern history on islands in the Caribbean. Based on our research and the evidence we have observed, it is likely that the virus is on its way to the U.S.

Vector-borne viruses—which are transmitted to people by an animal or insect—threaten half the world’s population and are responsible for millions of human infections annually. Various mosquitoes and ticks transmit a subgroup of these viruses that are called arboviruses.

There are over 100 known arboviruses that infect humans and can cause neuroinvasive diseases like encephalitis, febrile illnesses and hemorrhagic fevers.  Except for yellow fever, tick-born encephalitis and Japanese encephalitis, there are no commercially available vaccines for most arboviral disease.

As the world becomes flatter and the globe opens to new opportunities for international trade and travel, viruses that used to be confined to “over there” are increasingly coming “over here,” and they are arriving sooner rather than later.

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