As Schumer Previously Warned, Chik-V Has Continued to Spread from Caribbean & S. America to the United States, Including 3 Travel-Related Cases on LI.
Washington, DC - July 23, 2014 - In light of news that at least three Long Islanders have contracted travel-related cases of Chikungunya, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today said that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cannot delay in issuing an immediate health alert for medical professionals in New York and around the country that includes recommendations for identifying, treating and containing Chikungunya. This mosquito-borne virus is rarely fatal but causes severe fevers, arthritic-like joint paint, muscle pain, headaches, joint swelling and rashes for an extended period of time. There are 30 confirmed cases in New York at this point.
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. Schumer first called on the CDC and DHS to act one month ago, flagging concerns of travelers returning from the World Cup.
“Chikungunya has now officially reached Long Island, and the feds must act before this debilitating virus spreads further and takes hold in New York. There are a number of ways that Chik-V can be treated and contained, and it is critical that the CDC issue a health alert so that doctors can be on the look-out for this virus, better identify and treat symptoms and prevent its spread. Also, I am calling on the federal government to help contain and prevent the further spread of this virus on Long Island by activating protocols similar to those used in 2009 when the Mexican swine flu outbreak threatened to spill over into the United States; 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. Schumer’s initial concerns about this virus came after a surge of Chikungunya cases in the Caribbean that brought the number of cases from 100,000 to 135,651 from June 2nd to June 12th, according to the Caribbean Public Health Agency. The number of cases has since worsened significantly. 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. However, it is yet to issue a health alert.
Since 2006, the United States has averaged 28 imported cases of chikungunya per year in travelers returning from countries where the virus is common, according to the CDC. As of July 22, a total of 497 Chikungunya cases have been reported to ArboNET from U.S. states and territories. One hundred ninety-seven locally-transmitted cases have been reported from Florida, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands. All other cases occurred in travelers returning from affected areas in the Caribbean and South America (N=295), the Pacific Islands (N=4), or Asia (N=1).
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.
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 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 nearly 500 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.