Officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recently reported an alarming increase in the number of Chikungunya cases throughout the Caribbean. While the virus itself is rarely lethal; symptoms include headaches, fever and intense joint pain that often leaves patients contorting in agony. But even as the mosquito-borne infection spreads rapidly across the various Vodou nations of the Caribbean, some of the insects have been found throughout the southwest United States and as far north as New York.
If zombie films have taught us anything, it’s that national borders rarely stop the infected. For example, the Department of Homeland Security has recently called Coast Guard medics to McAllen, Texas to assist with an outbreak of scabies, chicken pox and staph infections among the illegal immigrants currently detained there. And in an official press release, CDC Director Tom Frieden elaborated on the inevitable spread of Chikungunya.
Microbes know no boundaries, and the appearance of chikungunya virus in the Western hemisphere represents another threat to health security … CDC experts have predicted and prepared for its arrival for several years and there are surveillance systems in place to help us track it. To protect Americans, we have to support and maintain capacity to detect and respond to the emergence of new viruses.
The virus actually lives and thrives in human blood, and is easily carried to new hosts through the bite of Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes which have appeared in the United States in recent decades. Additionally, infected persons can carry and spread the virus by traveling internationally; much the same way the West Nile virus arrived in the late nineties. And unfortunately, there is no vaccine or specific treatment for the infection.
This has led Florida health officials to issue caution to both travelers and residents. But is it enough? Perhaps the spread of viruses like Chikungunya are the reason why government agencies, including the CDC and Department of Defense, are increasingly using a zombie pandemic as the basis for their own real-life models, studies and strategies!