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Your odds of contracting Ebola vs. Chikungunya

August 12, 2014 1 comment

Sure, Ebola is scary. However, the issue with Ebola is primarily a social one where misinformation, a lack of infrastructure, and general government mistrust have thrown the epidemic out of control (I suggest reading a historical perspective on Ebola response and prevention). Unless you’ve recently traveled to west Africa to eat bushmeat or treat Ebola patients, there is little cause for concern. You are very unlikely to contract Ebola, but recently your odds of getting Chikungunya have significantly increased.

On June 17, 2014, the CDC announced the first case of Chikungunya acquired in the continental US. Previously, Chikungunya in the US had only been identified in travelers coming from the Caribbean where over half a million people have contracted Chikungunya (Caribbean Chikungunya Cases Climb 8%, top 500,000). In late 2013, Chikungunya was introduced to the Caribbean from Africa or Asia, where the disease has been endemic since its discovery in the 1950s. This rapid spread of Chikungunya is particularly alarming, and has been heavily influenced by the increase in international travel.

They're gonna have to change this map.

They’re gonna have to update this map.

What’s Chikungunya?
Chikungunya is a disease caused by chikungunya virus, which is transmitted by Aedes mosquitos. Infection by Chikungunya may result in a fever, rash, insomnia, headache, and joint pain. While Chikungunya is rarely fatal, it is incredibly debilitating, causing symptoms for weeks to months. Chikungunya also presents with other symptoms such as leg swelling and ocular inflammation. Chikungunya pathology is not well understood, and as a result antivirals and vaccines have not been developed.

800px-Aedes_aegypti_feeding

Avoid Aedes mosquitos.

Ebola is not likely to cause a pandemic.
Ebola is one of the deadliest diseases on the planet, but with the proper infrastructure can be controlled. Additionally, the likely reservoir of Ebola is in bats, which are often eaten as bushmeat in villages in Africa (Africans still eating bushmeat despite Ebola). 1. Here in the US we rarely come in contact with or eat bats. 2. Even if we were more bat oriented, the Ebola reservoir is likely specific to animals in Africa. 3. Education plays a major role in the spread of the disease. African tribes are notorious for rejecting help from Doctors without Borders and the like (Superstitions play a role). 4. Ebola transmission requires contact with bodily fluid such as blood, vomit, or diarrhea. It is not a respiratory infection and close contact with a patient is unlikely to cause transmission.

In contrast, Chikungunya transmission is nearly impossible to avoid. Aedes albopictus and Aedes aegypti, reservoirs of Chikungunya virus, are invasive species of Asian tiger mosquito that are now firmly seated in the US. Importantly, on August 7th, Chikungunya was found in mosquitos in the US. The West African outbreak of Ebola is certainly devastating, but Chikungunya is far more widespread and is transmitted with relative ease. So while it is important to be mindful of the current state of Ebola, overlooking other potential outbreaks may have devastating consequences.