Chikungunya is an alphavirus (Noden, 9-26-2019). This means that it is very small, only about 65-70 nanometers in diameter, making them easy to transmit. They also replicate very quickly within vectors like arthropods, humans, and animals (Joyce et. al, 2009).
Chikungunya mostly follows the sylvatic cycle, meaning it mostly occurs in forested areas; though it may also occur in large populations (Noden, 9-26-2019). It is in over 100 countries in Africa, Europe, Asia, the Pacific and Indian Oceans, and just recently has been found in the United States (CDC, 2019). There is no vaccine and the vector is very common, so it spreads easily (CDC, 2019).
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The disease itself targets humans, rodents, primates, and birds (Durbin, 2014). About three to seven days after transmission, symptoms will begin to appear. The symptoms of this disease are mainly fever and joint pain, but people infected may also experience headaches, muscle pain, joint swelling, or rashes (CDC, 2019). Long term, this disease can cause life-long joint pain (CDC, 2019). This joint pain could cause people to not be able to work anymore which could be catastrophic to them and their families. The people most effected by Chikungunya are new born children, those that are sixty-five years or older, those with high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart disease (CDC, 2019).
The arthropod or vector for this disease are mosquitoes. More specifically Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes (Noden, 9-26-2019). The Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is the more dominant vector for Chikungunya, follows a sylvatic cycle; while the Aedes albopictus mosquito follows a more urban cycle (Durbin, 2014). The Aedes albopictus mosquito is a competent vector for humans, which is why it has begun to spread so rapidly throughout human populations (Noden, 9-26-2019). The virus very rapidly replicates in vectors, so that in one single drop of blood there can be up to one million viruses (Durbin, 2014). The spread of the virus has picked up so much more rapidly because of two things: climate change and human travel. Climate change has brought about more warm and wet environments. This allows for longer breeding and feeding periods and a larger breeding and feeding area for the mosquito vectors. This causes the disease to be spread more (Durbin, 2014). The warming of the planet has also contributed to easier transmission among mosquitoes because the more heat there is, the weaker the mosquito midgut becomes, which is where the virus incubates (Mbaika et al. 2016). Human travel also plays a very large part in the spread of this disease. Humans are travelling all over the world now and if someone gets infected in one country, then brings it back to wherever they are from and an Aedes mosquito feeds on them there is now a chance of the disease spreading to that area (Durbin, 2014). Extrinsic incubation of Chikungunya lasts about two to nine days, with an average of three days in the mosquito before being transmitted to a human or other animal (Mbaika et al. 2016).
As stated before, the heat creates a better environment for the virus to be transmitted. The heat weakens the midgut infection barrier which leads to better vector competency and therefore easier and more frequent transmission. So, transmission of this disease is much more likely in warmer climates (Mbaika et al. 2016). Mosquitoes can also only live in warmer weather so there will be a higher population in warmer areas.
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While it used to only be in Eastern Africa, Chikungunya came to the United States because Aedes mosquitoes are in the United States. Especially now that there was a vector shift and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes are able to transmit the virus to humans and they are in the United States. (Noden, 9-26-2019) Chikungunya is not a well-known virus, but it should be. A majority of the United States population is unaware of this virus and the threat that we face with Aedes mosquitoes.
- CDC. “Transmission | Chikungunya Virus | CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 17 Dec. 2018, https://www.cdc.gov/chikungunya/index.html
- *Durbin, Ann Fiegen. “Chikungunya Virus on the Move.” Science in the News, Harvard University, 1 Jan. 2015, http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/special-edition-on-infectious-disease/2014/chikungunya-virus-on-the-move/
- Jose, Joyce et al. “A structural and functional perspective of alphavirus replication and assembly.” Future microbiology vol. 4,7 (2009): 837-56. doi:10.2217/fmb.09.59, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2762864/
- Mbaika, Sophiah et al. “Vector competence of Aedes aegypti in transmitting Chikungunya virus: effects and implications of extrinsic incubation temperature on dissemination and infection rates.” Virology journal vol. 13 114. 29 Jun. 2016, doi:10.1186/s12985-016-0566-7, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4928303/
- Noden, B.H. 2019. “Mosquitoes continued 3 post lecture”. 26 Sept. 2019
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