Chikungunya Virus Rages
On - 25,000 Cases Per Week
Today Online - Singapore
An epidemic of mosquito-borne virus that causes painful, arthritis-like symptoms, is spreading relentlessly across the French Indian Ocean department of Reunion, French Health Minister Xavier Bertrand said.
The toll of new infections from the disease known as chikungunya "is still running at 25 000 a week," Bertrand said, describing the outbreak as "unchanged in its severity."
The president of France's Institute for Development Research (IRD), Jean-Francois Girard, said the outbreak was unprecedented. "This is the biggest epidemic (of chikungunya) ever recorded in the world," he said on Monday.
Chikungunya -- a Swahili word meaning "that which bends up" -- is caused by a virus spread by mosquitoes. It is not known to be fatal, but can cause painful swelling of joints in the body, leaving victims stooped and limiting their movements. Symptoms eventually disappear over time.
Bertrand made the remarks after a meeting of officials from the health and research ministries to beef up action against the epidemic. The meeting also brought in experts from the prestigious Pasteur Institute and the National Institute for Health and Medical Research (INSERM), as well as the IRD.
The meeting decided to dispatch 4 scientists to Reunion on Monday for a week-long mission to assess any risk of the virus being transmitted from a mother-to-be to her foetus and to look at ways of safely eradicating mosquitoes without harming Reunion's biodiversity.
Other areas of work are in fundamental research, notably the virus' life cycle, vaccine research and mosquito reproduction. There is no vaccine against chikungunya, although a prototype vaccine was tested by the University of Maryland among 73 volunteers in 2000. The researchers described the vaccine as safe and promising, but it was never followed up.
To date, the outbreak of chikungunya in Reunion is still spreading
at 25 000 cases per week, or 3571 daily. This is indeed the largest
chikungunya epidemic ever recorded. Is there any promising vaccine in
the works? ProMED is seeking for further information regarding the
2000 study on a prototype vaccine by the University of Maryland. - Mod.RY
Patricia A. Doyle, DVM, PhD- Bus Admin, Tropical Agricultural Economics
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