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Travel v. mosquitoes

First of two parts

Aedes mosquito sucking blood on skin

Aedes mosquito, carrier of the chikungunya virus, among other things.

The likely spread of a debilitating virus across the Atlantic from Africa drives home the need to protect yourself against mosquito bites when you travel.

Whenever I urge folks to consider travel to Africa — which is often — I inevitably hear fears of regional conflict or terrorist attacks.

For the record, the world’s deadliest terrorist is the size of a mosquito. In fact, it is the mosquito.

These little suckers kill at least 700,000 people a year from malaria and other tropical diseases. Al Qaeda? Al Shabab? Boko Haram? The lot of them don’t even come close.

We’ve talked about malaria here on IBIT before. It remains a scourge across much of Africa, especially south of the Sahara.

The only reason we don’t have similar problems here is due to the relative handful of county and state health workers who bust their butts to keep these little devils in check.

So why bring this up now? The problem is a virus known as chikungunya.

Like the trans-Atlantic slave trade, it has made its way from Africa and taken hold in the Americas. And if you contract it, you are in for one of the worst weeks — or years — of your life.

The name derives from the language of the Makonde people of East Africa, where it first appeared ages ago. It means “that which bends up” — as in contorted in agony.

You’ll experience about a week’s worth of headaches, nausea, insomnia, rashes and a fever as high as 104 degrees Fahrenheit.

But chikungunya is most notorious for excruciating joint pain — and that can linger for more than a year.

Vaccines? There are none.

Chikungunya has been around a long time, but never on this side of the Atlantic until it turned up on the island of St. Maarten in 2013.

Since then, it has torn across the Caribbean. In Haiti, which can’t ever seem to catch a break, it is already an epidemic.

Cases of chikungunya already have appeared in Florida, North Carolina, Mississippi and Georgia. The common thread among the victims is that they contracted the virus while traveling in the Caribbean.

UPDATE
Since I first published this post, Puerto Rico has declared a chikungunya epidemic. Also, for the first time, a Florida resident has contracted chikungunya without prior travel abroad, which means the disease is now establishing itself in the continental United States.
— IBIT
20 July 2014

Does this mean that you have to forget about vacationing in tropical destinations? No. You do need to get serious about your mosquito protection, though.

Because that bargain bug spray in the handy aerosol can may not cut it anymore.

NEXT: How to keep the mosquitoes at bay.

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