Washington, DC - June 23, 2014 - With the World Cup ending next month, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer urged the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to issue an immediate health alert for medical professionals in New York and around the country that includes recommendations for identifying, treating and containing Chikungunya, a mosquito-borne virus that is rarely fatal but causes severe fevers, arthritic-like joint paint, muscle pain, headaches, joint swelling and rashes. Second, Schumer called on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to declare a “public emergency” for the developing threat in the Caribbean and other countries, so that the United States can deploy specific protocols and resources at our borders and elsewhere to prevent the spread of the virus in the U.S.. Schumer said that these protocols would allow federal agencies to take specific actions - like increased inspections at U.S. ports of entry and additional scans of imported food products that could carry mosquitoes - and should be similar to those activated as the swine flu took hold in Mexico in 2009.
Thus far, Chikungunya has affected more than 100,000 individuals in the Caribbean and local transmission of the virus has also been confirmed in Guyana and French Guiana indicating spread to South America. There have also been confirmed cases in the United States, including in New York, which Schumer fears could increase dramatically following the return of travelers from the World Cup, if preventative measures are not taken. According to the CDC, the 2014 World Cup is scheduled to bring in an estimated 3.7 million visitors, and with so many people from all over the globe convening in close quarters at games and other venues, flu viruses could easily and quickly spread.
“With the large influx of people into and out of Brazil for the World Cup, the painful mosquito-borne virus called Chikungunya could spread rapidly and further increase the number of cases here in the U.S. and New York,” said Schumer. “With three confirmed cases of Chikungunya in New York already, I am calling on the federal government to help contain and prevent the further spread of this virus with by activating protocols similar to those used in 2009 when the Mexican swine flu outbreak threatened to spill over into the United States. I’m urging the CDC to issue a health alert so doctors can first, better identify and treat symptoms and second, educate individuals on how to prevent the spread of Chik-V. Third, the Department of Homeland Security should increase port of entry inspection measures for the virus, and fourth we must boost food inspection to better detect this mosquito.”
Chikungunya is a virus that is transmitted by mosquitoes and is traditionally found in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and Southeast Asia. There has been a recent surge of Chikungunya cases in the Caribbean that has brought the number of cases from 100,000 to 135,651 from June 2nd to June 12th, according to the Caribbean Public Health Agency, and in the Dominican Republic alone there have been over 77,000 cases in five and a half months according to the Public Health Ministry. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been watching the virus, for fear that it could take hold in the United States which is highly likely during the summer tourist season, particularly given the World Cup.
The two mosquito species that can carry Chikungunya are the Aedes aegypti and the Aedes albopictus species, and the former is highly prevalent in Brazil at this time. The virus is transmitted from mosquitoes to individual, but not between individuals directly. The mosquitoes responsible for this virus are generally found in warmer and wetter conditions, but unlike more common mosquito species, these mosquitoes thrive during the day time and can be found in urban areas. Chikungunya is associated with high fevers that last between three and five days, headaches and extreme joint pain, similar to arthritis. There is no vaccine for the virus, but palliative treatment exists to alleviate severe pain, and there are measures that can be taken to help prevent further spread once an individual is infected.
The CDC has already reported 15 states with cases of Chikungunya just this year alone. There have been 3 travel related cases in New York. In Florida, there have been 25 cases documented. Schumer is taking preventative measures to help contain the spread of this painful virus, particularly given that the World Cup is expected to spread the virus globally.
Schumer today called for two clear actions to help prevent Chikungunya from spreading in the United States, through prevention and subsequent diagnosis and containment when cases are found. First, Schumer called on CDC to issue health alerts to doctors and nurses in New York and the United States, which would include clear descriptions of symptoms, the best palliative treatments, as well as ways to contain the virus. For example, once an individual is infected, it’s recommended that they wear bug spray in order to keep mosquitoes from biting them and passing it to others.
Second, Schumer today urged DHS to declare a “public emergency” for Chikungunya, much like the alert issued when swine flu hit Mexico in 2009. During the swine flu epidemic, this DHS designation allowed for resources to be deployed by federal, state and local agencies to prevent entry of this virus into the U.S. and to conduct diagnostic tests that will help improve the understanding of this relatively new virus in the U.S.. Schumer today said that the DHS should move forward with protocols that would help prevent Chikungungya from rapidly spreading. For example, Customs and Border Patrol inspectors should be at ports of entry (including both airports and seaports) of locations in which Chikungunya has been a problem. Agents can watch for warning signs as to whether an individual is sick, ask about symptoms and have individuals isolated and tested if signs of the virus exist. Additionally, DHS could work with air carriers to screen people abroad for Chikungunya so they do not travel to the U.S. they have the virus. Other agencies, like the U.S. Department of Agriculture could step up screening of produce being imported from the Caribbean and South America in order to help ensure the mosquito does not enter the U.S. in that way.
Schumer noted that similar protocols were implemented by DHS in 2009 when there were comparable numbers of swine flu in the United States. In April 2009, when DHS declared a “public health emergency,” there were 20 confirmed cases of swine flu in the United States. Schumer noted that, as of now, there are more than 25 confirmed cases of Chikungunya in the United States. Similarly, there were less cases of swine flu globally than Chikungunya, however, swine flu can be fatal.