The debilitating outbreak sweeping the Americas

Story highlights

  • In 2014 an outbreak of Chikungunya has spread across the Americas
  • The mosquito-borne virus causes debilitating symptoms such as joint pain
  • More than 1 million people have been infected and 155 have died
  • There is no treatment or vaccine, making prevention the main strategy for control
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(CNN)Its name means "bending over in pain." It has no treatment or vaccine. Its symptoms resemble Dengue fever. And it has infected more than 1 million people -- 155 of them fatally -- since spreading to the Americas one year ago.

The mosquito-borne Chikungunya virus has long been diagnosed in travelers returning from countries in Asia and Africa, where the disease is widespread. But in December 2013, the first people infected by mosquitoes local to the region were reported on the Caribbean island of Saint Martin.
    This was the first outbreak of the debilitating disease in the Western Hemisphere, health officials said.
      All countries in Central America have now reported local transmission of Chikungunya [pronounced chik-un-GOON-ya], and the United States had 11 confirmed cases of local infection this year as of December 12, all in Florida. There also have been 1,900 imported cases across the United States in returning travelers.
      "It wasn't until 2013 that unfortunately a traveler resulted in local transmission of Chikungunya," said Erin Staples of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), referring to the people infected in Saint Martin.
      Those infected carry the virus in their bloodstream; it can then be picked up by mosquitoes as they bite, making them carriers. The virus has since spread rapidly and shows no signs of leaving, as ecological conditions are perfect for the disease to flourish.
      "We knew it would spread," said Staples, a medical epidemiologist.
      The big question perplexing officials: Why now?
      Two mosquito species primed to the temperatures of Central and South America carry Chikungunya. The species -- Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus -- also carry the virus behind Dengue fever.