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Chikungunya is on its way to a neighborhood near you

8143929538_78a76a9b23_z (1)Very embarrassing confession: When I heard this piece on the radio yesterday, I thought it was about a chicken virus. Wow, I remember thinking, that’s strange I haven’t heard of this new debilitating chicken virus.

Oh, dear. The virus, of course, is actually chikungunya, a mosquito-borne pathogen that, according to a new study in Neurology, can lead to memory problems, dementia or even death.

“As it spreads across the world, we’re realizing that it’s not so benign,”  Desiree LaBeaud, MD, associate professor of pediatrics, told NPR.

The study highlighted by All Things Considered examined the aftermath of a 2005 epidemic on an island off Madagascar — sparked by storing water during a drought — that affected 300,000 people. “It was horrible,” investigator Patrick Gérardin, MD, PhD, told NPR.

Usually, chikungunya strikes with a fever, aches, and joint pain. Sometimes, however, it progresses to encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain. Why some people are hit hard, and others experience a relatively minor illness, remains a mystery, LaBeaud said.

This isn’t just a tropical disease that afflicts people in far-off lands. Chikungunya has been spotted in dozens of states, brought back by travelers. And there’s no treatment. No vaccine. This is no chicken virus.

For more on LaBeaud’s work, check out this video.

Previously: All hands on deck: Doctor answers call to work on largest Ebola epidemic in history, Why are viruses so wily? One researcher thinks she knows — and is working to thwart them and Should we worry? Stanford’s global health chief weighs in on Ebola
Photo by John Tann