The Houston area has always been impressively swampy, so of course the first Texas mosquito carrying chikungunya, a disease that causes high fever and severe joint pain, has been found right here in our very own mosquito-plagued backyard.
There have been rumblings about chikungunya in recent months, since the disease was confirmed in the Caribbean last year. Harris County Public Health and Environmental Services confirmed the first Houston-area case back on July 11, and there have been cases confirmed in almost every state of the country, but up until recently, the people with the disease were infected while traveling and then they brought the disease back, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While there have been some locally transmitted cases in Florida, all the rest have been the fancy imported kind.
That could soon change, though. Harris County Public Health and Environmental Services confirmed that a mosquito pool in Harris County has tested positive for the disease. Chikungunya (pronounced, from what we've gathered, as "chicken-gun-ya," and no, that's not a phonetic spelling) is a disease that holds some similarities to dengue fever, and has been around for more than 60 years, popping up in Africa, India, Asia and Europe. About 90 percent of those bitten by carrier mosquitoes are infected with the disease, which usually lasts for about ten days and isn't fatal. However, it's pretty awful to go through. The disease causes high fever and joint pain so severe that the name translates to "that which bends up" because people contort their bodies from the pain. There's no medicine to treat the disease aside from the standard meds used to cut fever and pain.
The Texas Department of State Health Services has confirmed ten cases in Texas so far -- two in Harris, two in Travis and one each in Bexar, Collin, Dallas, Gonzales, Montgomery and Williamson counties. All of the cases were imported, meaning the person in question went to somewhere tropical, got bit by a diseased mosquito and came home. However, the confirmation of one chikungunya-carrier mosquito in Harris means the disease has a lot more potential to start spreading locally, according to the release.
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Chikungunya has a lot of potential to get around in this area because Harris County has both types of mosquito -- Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus -- that are capable of transmitting the virus. These mosquitoes are out and about during the day, according to the CDC, unlike those West Nile carriers, which tend to stick to the mornings and evenings. So right now the CDC has some sage advice on the whole thing -- wear long sleeves and pants if you can (though we're not sure who can actually manage that in this weather), use bug spray and look those mosquitoes firmly in the eye and say, "Don't bite me." (Okay, the CDC doesn't actually advise that, but we wish they would.)