Researcher: New mosquito-borne illness has come to Kansas


A mosquito-borne illness that a top Kansas State University researcher says can knock people down for weeks or months at a time has come to Kansas but usually isn't fatal.

Stephen Higgs, director of the university's Biosecurity Research Institute, is a world expert on the chikungunya virus. The name is an African Makonde word that means "to bend up," with intense joint and body pain, The Wichita Eagle reported.

About 100 people in the United States have contracted the illness, most while traveling, Kansas State said in a prepared statement.

Of them are two people from Sedgwick County who recently traveled separately to the Caribbean, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment said.

The danger here will be if infected travelers come home, get bitten, and infect local mosquitoes that could then spread the illness widely.

The virus probably won't kill you, Higgs said, "But you really, really don't want this illness."

Higgs has spent 10 years studying chikungunya and has contributed toward what he says is promising research into a vaccine.

"We were studying it before it became popular, meaning well-known, and we've seen epidemics, for example in the Indian Ocean, where it basically spread through the French territories and affected a third of the local populations — 266,000 people in that area."

The virus causes fever and joint pain, along with headaches, rash and muscle pain. The number of fatalities is relatively small worldwide, where millions have become ill but only hundreds have died.

"In the recent outbreak in the Caribbean, there were 21 deaths and a quarter-million infected," Higgs said.

That outbreak concerns him because a lot of people travel to the Caribbean for vacations, and a Caribbean outbreak "brings it much closer to the U.S. than before."

Still, of the 50 or so species of mosquitoes in Kansas, only two are known to spread chikungunya.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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