Mosquito-Borne Chikungunya Virus May Lead to Severe Brain Infection in Infants & Elderly; Consequences Especially Harmful in Newborns

The mosquito-borne virus Chikungunya may lead to severe brain infection and even death in infants and people over 65, according to a new study that reviewed a Chikungunya outbreak on Reunion Island off the coast of Madagascar in 2005-2006. The study was published online today (November 25, 2015) in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. The article is titled “Chikungunya Virus–Associated Encephalitis: A Cohort Study on La Réunion Island, 2005–2009.” Many cases have occurred in the United States in people who acquired the virus while traveling, but the first locally transmitted case in the U.S. occurred in Florida in July 2015. The Neurology-published study showed that the rate of brain infection, or encephalitis, from the Chikungunya virus is higher than the rate seen in the United States due to West Nile virus and similar infections between 1999 and 2007. Outbreaks of Chikungunya have occurred in numerous areas, including Africa, Asia, the Caribbean islands, and, as of September 2015, more than 7,000 cases have been reported in Mexico, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The most common symptoms of the infection are fever and joint pain. Most people recover within a week. For some people, however, the joint pain can continue for months and even years. "Because there is no vaccine to prevent Chikungunya and no medicine to treat it, people who are traveling to these areas should be aware of this infection and take steps to avoid mosquito bites, such as wearing repellent and long-sleeves and pants if possible," said study lead author Patrick Gérardin, M.D., Ph.D., of Central University Hospital in Saint Pierre, Reunion Island. The epidemic of the virus on Reunion Island occurred in 2005 to 2006 and affected 300,000 people.
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