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Researchers discover long-term impact of commonly contracted mosquito-borne disease: 'Can cause pain for years'

Those diagnosed experienced severe joint pain that could be categorized as "significantly impacting their quality of life."

Those diagnosed experienced severe joint pain that could be categorized as "significantly impacting their quality of life."

Photo Credit: iStock

A new analysis in the journal Travel Medicine and Infectious Disease revealed that a commonly contracted mosquito-borne illness may be more harmful than previously thought, leading to concern for travelers in increasingly mosquito-prone climate zones.

What's happening?

The chikungunya virus (CHIKV) is a mosquito-borne disease. It was first detected in 1952 and is now widespread in tropical areas including Africa, Asia, and the Pacific, with confirmed cases in nearly 115 countries

Although scientists have known about CHIKV for decades, a new analysis found that it has more severe health impacts than previously thought, including that it "can cause pain for years."

The study found that 86% of travelers diagnosed with CHIKV experienced severe joint pain that could be categorized as "significantly impacting their quality of life." CHIKV also interacts with pre-existing illnesses like chronic arthralgia, causing symptoms to re-emerge.

Why is this concerning?

Scientists are particularly concerned about mosquito-borne diseases like CHIKV — as well as even deadlier ones, like malaria, zika, and dengue fever — because of the correlative relationship between mosquitoes and global heating.

Each year, more than 700 million people contract a mosquito-borne illness; of those, over 1 million die. As the planet's temperatures increase, more regions will become breeding grounds for disease-transmitting mosquitoes, putting more people at risk in new parts of the world. 

Beyond that, the transmission season will lengthen as warmer temperatures create extended breeding environments. One study found that transmission seasons for malaria and dengue fever could extend by up to an additional four months per year by 2080.

Other environmental factors are contributing to the growth of disease-carrying pests as well. "Everything we're doing as we alter our world puts us more at risk: They breed in the plastic waste we discard; they thrive in urban environments, and they like it hot," said Stanford professor Desiree LaBeaud.

What's being done about this?

Part of limiting the spread of mosquito-borne illness is staying on top of disease surveillance and outbreak response. The World Health Organization launched the Global Arbovirus Initiative in 2022, which aims to "ensure efficient response, evidence-based practice, equipped and trained personnel, and engagement of communities."

Additionally, working hard to curb harmful air pollution and reduce plastic waste can help prevent mosquitoes from breeding, ensuring that future generations won't see exponentially higher transmission rates.

And if you're traveling to a mosquito-prone area, make sure to always check the vaccination recommendations for your destination, and go prepared with tools like bed nets, bug spray, and proper clothing. 

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