By Stephanie Stahl
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A virus caused by mosquitoes in the Caribbean is making a growing number of American travelers sick, dozens from our area. 3 On Your Side Health Reporter Stephanie Stahl has the latest and more on a promising vaccine.
Nearly 600 cases of Chikungunya have been reported in the United States so far this year. There are 51 cases in New Jersey, 14 in Pennsylvania, and one case in Delaware. As cases increase, health officials are testing a new vaccine to prevent the illness.
People are arriving back to Philadelphia International Airport with more than just their luggage. Some are sick with the Chikungunya virus.
“It is not acquired or caught in Philadelphia,” said Dr. Caroline Johnson, with the Philadelphia Health Department. He says local travelers are becoming symptomatic after traveling to the Caribbean, mainly the Dominican Republic.
“It’s a typical fever and headache or flu like illness, but it very quickly evolves in to a striking arthritic type of disease,” said Dr. Johnson.
As the virus spreads, an experimental vaccine to prevent Chikungunya is showing promise. Researchers at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases injected 25 volunteers with the vaccine and found antibodies developed, and lasted, in participants for at least 11 months after their last shot.
“We have tested it to see if it’s safe, which it apparently is, and to see if it induces the kind of immune response that you would predict would be protective, and that is good,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
The next step is to test the vaccine in a much larger group. If successful, it would likely be available to people who live near outbreaks or those who frequently travel to those places.
“Recovery is very typical, but it can be a painful condition to live through, so it’s best to avoid it,” said Dr. Johnson.
There’s no evidence that mosquitoes carrying the Chikungunya virus are in our area. And it can’t be spread from person to person.
This is different than West Nile virus, which is in our area.