Stay Free of CHIKV!

Posted: 09 09, 2015

Written by Suzan Ok

Doctoral Candidate in Microbiology & Immunology at UNC
Illustration by Allie Mills
Doctoral Candidate in UNC Department of Pharmacology

Illustration by Allie Mills
Stay Free of CHIKV!

Chikungunya (pronunciation: chik-en-gun-ye), a virus with a difficult name to pronounce, is also proving difficult to contain. Like the more commonly known dengue virus, chikungunya (CHIKV) is an arbovirus, where “arbo” stands for “ARthropod-BOrne.” Arthropod vectors most commonly include ticks and mosquitoes. The prevalence of mosquito hosts around the world, as well as travelers infected with exotic arboviruses, make tackling the spread of CHIKV tricky.

CHIKV spreads through two species of mosquito, Aedes albopictus and Aedes aegypti, which bite mostly during the daytime. Both are found in the southeastern and some parts of the southwestern United States. Aedes albopictus is also found in the Mid-Atlantic and lower Midwest. Animal reservoirs, which harbor CHIKV without developing the disease, include monkeys, birds, cattle, and rodents.

The most common symptoms of CHIKV virus infection are fever and joint pain, which appear 4 – 7 days post-infection. Other symptoms may include headache, muscle pain, joint swelling, or rash. These symptoms are similar to those of a dengue infection, which can occur simultaneously with CHIKV infection, complicating clinical diagnoses. Luckily, CHIKV is rarely fatal, although symptoms can be severe.

In 1952, the first case of CHIKV was identified in Tanzania. Outbreaks later spread from Africa to Asia, Europe, and regions surrounding the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Then in 2013, CHIKV transmission was first detected in the Caribbean. Just this past summer, the first locally acquired case of CHIKV in the United States was found in Florida.

This recently reported case is the first time that mosquitoes in the continental United States have spread the virus to a non-traveler. This means that now there is a risk of the virus spreading through mosquitoes within the US! Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not expect widespread cases of CHIKV in the United States this summer, infected travelers may continue to introduce the virus into the mosquito population and consequently human hosts once they return to the US. A higher number of infected people in the US could exacerbate CHIKV spread in the near future.

Currently, there are no vaccines against CHIKV or treatments for infection, but the Heise Lab at UNC is studying CHIKV and other alphaviruses using mouse pathogenesis models. They use human monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) to neutralize CHIKV infectivity, which may lead to the development of a new therapeutic drug. However, until a vaccine or therapeutic treatment becomes available, the best way to prevent infection is to avoid mosquito bites.

There are many ways to minimize mosquito bites. When traveling to countries or states with chikungunya virus, use bug spray, wear long clothing, and stay in places with air conditioning and window and door screens. Keep standing water, such as that in buckets and old tires, to a minimum in order to reduce mosquito breeding grounds. If infected, it is best to stay inside and avoid mosquito bites during the first week of illness to avoid reintroducing the virus into the mosquito population.

Thanks for doing your part to stay free of CHIKV!

Peer edited by Nicole Carlson & Kayleigh O’Keeffe

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This article was co-published on the SWAC Blog, The Pipettepen.

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