By PETER ABRAMOWICZ
A presentation by two Cornell University professors revealed on Tuesday that the Asian tiger mosquito may soon become a household name as the aggressive bug may possibly cause an outbreak of the virus known as chikungunya in New York this summer.
According to the professors, Laura C. Harrington and Drew Harvell of Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the virus is “headed this way.”
“The invasive species was introduced to us in the 1980s and the pathogens and bacteria it transmits are also invasive,” Harvell said.
Perhaps what’s causing the most concern is the virus itself, which originated in Africa and travels with the Asian tiger mosquito. Although the deaths associated with the virus have been few, the professors do believe there is definite cause for concern this summer.
“Increased temperature is critically important in driving this virus,” Harrington said. “I don’t think we are prepared, that’s why there needs to be awareness … We didn’t learn our lesson with West Nile (virus).”
According to her research, there is a 38 percent probability of an outbreak in New York this summer, followed by a 40 percent chance in Atlanta and a 40 percent chance in Miami at any given time.
The most common symptoms of chikungunya include high fever, debilitating joint pains, nausea and headaches, with some cases lasting weeks to months. Like most viruses, the elderly and very young are shown to be most susceptible. “We see the risk peaking in July and dying down in August, ” Harrington said.
“We should let physicians know to look for sign of chikungunya,” Harrington said. “Efforts should go into vaccine development.” There is currently no form of commercial vaccinations or treatment for chikungunya.
“This is a climate-driven disease phenomenon,” said Harvell. She explained that global warming is the culprit for many global diseases and recent strange natural occurrences. She said the unusually warm weather can contribute to the development of diseases, but also coral reef collapsing, recent bird and dolphin deaths and high levels of rain to contribute to the breeding of mosquitoes.
“No matter how you measure it, the earth is getting warmer [and] a warmer world is a sicker world,” she said.