(NaturalNews) Many people have heard of malaria and may even know about Dengue fever, two health-ravaging, mosquito-borne diseases. Malaria brings fever, chills and flu-like symptoms, and Dengue fever elicits fever, headache, pain and skin rash.
What few people have heard of is the chikungunya virus, an emerging mosquito-borne virus that was once isolated in Asia, Africa and the Indian subcontinent. Originally discovered in Tanzania in the 1950s, chikungunya stayed in the shadows for decades. By 2007, the disease had spread to northeastern Italy, infecting 10. Most shocking, though, has been its emergence in the past six months. The disease, spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, has made its way to the Americas and is spreading fast. Hundreds of new cases have been rising up throughout the Caribbean islands.
4,600 new cases of chikungunya in the Caribbean
In the last six months, the Pan American Health Organization has documented nearly 4,600 new cases of chikungunya in the Caribbean. Puerto Rico has recently confirmed its first case as has the US Virgin Islands. The mosquito-borne disease is sweeping through the tropics, inflicting its victims with arthritis-like symptoms -- chronic joint pain. The disease is like Dengue fever, causing fever, rash and nausea. The symptoms of chikungunya can last for months or years.
Chikungunya is spreading rapidly on the French islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique, accounting for 2,800 of the new cases. At least 20 states or islands have confirmed new cases, with 793 cropping up on the French side of St. Martin and 123 on the Dutch side.
"It has not been here before, so people are susceptible, there is no resistance and we have had a lot of the mosquitoes that transmit it," said Dr. James Hospedales, executive director of the Caribbean Public Health Agency [emphasis added].
"The players in the tourism industry need to be concerned," said Dr. Hospedales. "We have been working with the Caribbean Tourism Organization on some of the communications messages because you have to be truthful and honest in informing the population, but on the other hand you can't cause alarm and panic."
According to the Caribbean Tourism Organization, more than 25 million tourists visited the disease-stricken region in 2013. The area is one of the largest tourist destinations in the world.
Chikungunya making its way to the US
As tourism treks on in the Caribbean, the CDC is worried that the virus will spread onto cruise ships, moving quickly to larger populations and, ultimately, the United States.
As a matter of fact, the first cases of the disease in the US have been confirmed in Georgia and Florida.
"Both the cases were imported," said Claudia Blackburn, a health officer in Leon County Florida. Tourists who visited the Caribbean contacted the disease, but Blackburn said, "We don't anticipate seeing any local spread."
Since then, the CDC has confirmed at least 60 new cases arising in the US.
In the meantime, public health officials advise travelers and tourists to wear protective clothing if possible, use mosquito nets or carry around a reliable bug repellent.