Chikungunya Is Not a Dish You Serve with Dumplings

Posted: June 18, 2014

Penn State Extension in Lehigh County used the media to inform the public of a recent mosquito-borne outbreak.
Left: Chikungunya virus particles budding from the surface of an infected human cell (Copyright : O. Schwartz/Institut Pasteur). Right: Aedes albopictus or Asian Tiger mosquito

Left: Chikungunya virus particles budding from the surface of an infected human cell (Copyright : O. Schwartz/Institut Pasteur). Right: Aedes albopictus or Asian Tiger mosquito

Penn State Extension in Lehigh County recognizes the value of maintaining working relationships with local news outlets and sustaining the vital link between the public and newspapers, television, radio and digital social media.

Information about timely and relevant issues can be quickly dispersed to a wide audience. Recently, Extension Educator Louise Bugbee participated in an interview with WFMZ Channel 69 news to reach potentially 1.5 million viewers and share information on a new mosquito borne disease, Chikungunya.

She is part of the West Nile virus program in Lehigh County, which has been very successful in educating people on mosquito biology and potential disease transmission throughout the mosquito season.

Pronunced chik-en-gun-ye, Chikungunya virus -- often referred to as CHIKV -- was first identified and described in the early 1950s in Tanzania, Africa. The term “chikungunya” means “that which bends up,” a direct reference to the debilitating, arthritis-like joint pain that characterizes this disease.

The recent outbreak began in the Caribbean this past December and has since infected more than 135,000 residents and tourists. Numerous imported cases have occurred in the United States as people have traveled to the infected areas. Onset of symptoms is usually three to seven days post bite.

CHIKV infection typically begins with a sudden fever and is frequently accompanied by a rash, muscle pain, nausea and headache. The severe joint pain that gives the disease its name can be incapacitating and in some cases becomes chronic, lasting for weeks or even months. CHIKV is rarely fatal.

The mosquito that carries the virus in the Caribbean does not reside in Pennsylvania. But the Aedes albopictus or Asian Tiger mosquito -- an invasive insect that has taken firm hold in many parts of the state -- can act as a carrier for CHIKV in our northern climate.

Infected humans bring the virus home from their travels, and the danger lies in the possibility of an infected human getting bitten by an Aedes albopictus, which can then bite and infect more people.

Until the introduction of West Nile virus in 1999, mosquito control and education had fallen by the wayside in many parts of the nation. Penn State Extension West Nile virus educators, acting as county coordinators, are part of the statewide surveillance and control program. They have brought this important matter back into public view.

Right now, it is imperative to alert travelers to this new threat. Penn State Extension Lehigh County’s use of the media to communicate this information increases recognition and public understanding.

This new mosquito-borne disease does not mean that travel to the Caribbean should be stopped, but it does mean that the public needs the knowledge to pack the repellent and be sure to use it if visiting locations where CHIKV is known to be flourishing.

For more information on chikungunya, please visit the Center for Disease Control’s chikungunya website.