In much of the civilized world, yellow fever and malaria were tamed a long time ago.
In California and other states, illness spread by mosquitoes became a health threat again with the West Nile virus.
Dr. Charles Chiu, associate professor of laboratory medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, said it’s possible mosquito bites will deliver a wider variety of illnesses to North Americans in the not too distant future.
During an interview last week, Chiu said he’s working on developing a rapid test for diagnosing West Nile illness and other mosquito-borne diseases. Such a test is needed today because there’s no quick way to diagnose West Nile disease, which has sickened dozens of people in Stanislaus County this year. Most of the time, a blood sample must be sent to a lab capable of doing an accurate test, Chiu said.
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It’s why some West Nile patients don’t find out what’s caused their health crisis until after their release from the hospital.
Health officials are watching a disease called chikungunya, a viral illness that’s sickened tens of thousands of people in Central America and the Caribbean Islands. It’s spread by mosquito bites and the first two U.S. cases were reported in Florida in July.
The virus caused outbreaks in Africa, Asia and Europe before making the jump to our hemisphere in 2013.
Chikungunya is not considered life-threatening but the most common symptoms – fever and painful joints – can curb your lifestyle. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most people infected with chikungunya “feel better within a week. In some people, the joint pain may persist for months.”
The two mosquito species that carry this virus are not found in California. Chiu said there’s concern, however, that climate change will create conditions for those mosquitoes to carve out new territory in the United States. The same two species also may transmit the dengue fever virus, the CDC says.