Chikungunya Virus: What, Where, How to Avoid
This New Year’s Eve, we learned that actress Lindsay Lohan is a victim of Chikungunya virus (CHIKV).
We think Ms. Lohan contracted her illness in the Pacific islands of French Polynesia, but CHIKV is moving quickly from South America and the Caribbean into Florida…and its widespread presence throughout the U.S. is imminent.
The first symptom of CHIKV is fever, usually beginning about a week after being bitten by the Asian Tiger Mosquito. Then comes nearly unbearable joint pain, fatigue, rashes, headache, and muscle aches.
CHIKV is rarely fatal. But the crippling symptoms can linger for months, even years. There is no cure or vaccination to prevent the disease. Researchers have begun testing a vaccine, but it is still years away from approval, and it’s not clear how effective it will be once it’s cleared.
Fortunately, CHIKV is not spread by human contact, only via bites from infected mosquitos.
The Asian tiger mosquito, a smaller relative of the common mosquito, is the primary carrier of Chikungunya. Only one-quarter inch long, this daytime feeder is not only harder to see, but it can easily slip through even a tiny hole in your window screen.
CHIKV was first identified in Africa. It recently began expanding its territory. In 2006, there were fewer than 65 cases of CHIKV a year in the U.S, most of them travelers who’d been bitten on vacation.
But now the number of cases in the Caribbean has exploded, raising the specter of an epidemic in this country. In fact, French researchers predict that in just one decade, CHIKV will be a worldwide concern.
With warmer winters, heavy rains, and earlier springs, health authorities expect to see growing numbers of mosquitoes continuing to spread this disease.
And since mosquitoes can pick up the virus from biting infected birds or small mammals, if you see an increase in dead birds or small animals like gophers or squirrels, notify your local public health department.
I’m not trying to sound too alarmist. Although this disease is a genuine concern, to date, it’s only been acquired in Florida inside the United States.
You still need to watch out for mosquitoes, which transmit other diseases we do have in the U.S., like deadly West Nile Virus.
Here are six suggestions to help keep you safe from mosquito-borne illness:
- Wear insect repellent, but avoid those containing permethrin or DEET, which can harm your health. Instead, look for a product that contains neem oil, a safer, natural insecticide.
- It’s harder for insects to bite when the air is moving, so set up fans near doors to keep them out of your house and off your skin.
- Keep your body covered outdoors, with long pants and long sleeves.
- Drain any standing water near your home. Remove water from gutters, birdbaths, tires, buckets, and rain barrels. Even a small container can be home to hundreds of mosquito larvae.
- Make sure all your windows are covered by screens and repair any holes that could let insects in.
- Take 300 mg of enteric-coated garlic supplements twice a day or eat fresh garlic daily to make yourself less appealing to mosquitoes. Since garlic can thin the blood, anyone taking blood thinners (Warfarin, Coumadin, Plavix) should discuss taking garlic with a physician.
Some of my patients have asked about spraying the yard with insecticide. I don’t recommend it. Yes, it will eliminate the mosquitoes, but only for a few hours.
Insecticides also expose you and your family to damaging toxins, linked to Parkinson’s disease and other health issues. And the insecticides also kill beneficial insects in your yard, things like ladybugs, butterflies, and earthworms.
As always, I urge you to protect yourself by maintaining a healthy immune system. So please review those suggestions from earlier newsletters, and make sure you’re doing everything you can to stay strong and healthy this year.