The following is a guest post by Jennifer Peterson, who recently earned her PhD in disease ecology.
Chikungunya is a virus spread by the mosquito species Aedes aegypti, the same mosquito responsible for the transmission of dengue fever.
Infection with chikungunya usually leads to joint pain lasting for a few weeks. The virus was first identified in Tanzania in the 1950s but has only recently spread to the Western Hemisphere.
According to the Colombian Health Ministry, as of June 6th, 2015, there were a reported 266,933 confirmed cases in Colombia, leading people to ask, what the heck is Chikungunya, and should I be worried?
Is there Chikungunya in Medellín?
According to Rita Elena Almanza Payares, the leader of the Epidemiological surveillance program of the Secretary of Heath in Medellín, as of June 16th, there were 31 confirmed cases of Chikungunya infection in Medellín, with 340 more under investigation.
However, most cases were from people who travelled to Medellín from other areas of Colombia (for nice graphics of the distribution of Chikungunya in Colombia, click here), and the main vector-borne disease of concern here in Medellín is still dengue fever.
That said, we are not in the clear yet. As stated earlier, the mosquito species that transmits dengue in Medellín, Aedes aegypti, or more commonly known here as the “zancudo” is the same one that transmits the Chikungunya virus.
Thus, it is probably just a matter of time before the virus is transmitted by paisa mosquitos.
Should I be worried?
In a nutshell, I would say no. Chikungunya in Colombia has a very low mortality rate (0.01%) and is generally fatal to those already in poor condition. Moreover, the mosquito that transmits the virus is typically found in areas that look like the image above.
The picture is from the chikungunya information page on the Mayor’s office web page. Aedes aegypti mosquitos require standing water to breed, and thus will most likely be found in areas with standing water.
As you can see from the picture, I am not referring to swamps, but rather small pots of standing water that are usually the risk factors near human homes. Most likely, these are not the tourist areas of the city, but rather the more residential areas.
That said, it is always best to educate yourself on the symptoms of the disease and if you do believe you may have chikungunya, seek medical attention immediately!
The first image in the story is courtesy of CDC Global.