U.S. cases of the novel strain of virus seen in Central America surge

U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, fresh off visiting Central America, announced this week that international cases of the mosquito-borne virus that causes the novel version of chikungunya virus are surging. The Middle…

U.S. cases of the novel strain of virus seen in Central America surge

U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, fresh off visiting Central America, announced this week that international cases of the mosquito-borne virus that causes the novel version of chikungunya virus are surging.

The Middle East has experienced a large increase in the number of confirmed cases as have the Bahamas, which has seen the number of cases more than double since the beginning of the year.

In Central America, a country which has already surpassed its 2010 case total, the Chikungunya outbreak has again begun to spread through the Pacific, where Washington is located. But still unclear is whether the uptick in U.S. cases will spread, as it has in the Americas, to Asia.

So far the U.S. has seen in total 51 cases confirmed, but those are still small in comparison to other countries – more than the next five places combined, according to the World Health Organization.

“Chikungunya is on the rise across the United States,” Napolitano told an audience at the Harvard Kennedy School on Tuesday.

But the virus may not have caused an uptick, as some studies have shown that the extent of disease often goes unnoticed in areas with adequate surveillance and epidemiologists.

Nationwide cases, though, have spiked as late as last year, perhaps reflecting the strong travel patterns of the current Ebola virus. Each case appears related to an individual’s exposure to the virus, which means that the disease is spreading rapidly, said Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.

However, Hotez told the Washington Post, this could also be because of a more recent outbreak of dengue, which has infected hundreds of thousands of people. And dengue virus, while not as dangerous as chikungunya, may be tied to increased transmission among mosquitoes.

Nonetheless, Hotez said that he worries about the longer-term dangers of the surge.

“Chikungunya is an extreme example of what happens when we don’t know where our mosquito-borne illnesses are going to come from,” he said.

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