Meet Chikungunya, a Highly Infectious Disease Slated to Hit the American South
In the southern United States, it’s that time of year again: Birds are chirping, the sun is shining, and thousands of baby mosquitoes are hatching in your weird uncle’s neglected swimming pool.
But this year there’s a new problem child: Aedes aegypti, otherwise known as the yellow fever mosquito. Typically brown with white markings, this mosquito is a highly aggressive biter, generally found in hot, humid areas like Mexico and Central America, and sometimes the American south. But this year, mosquito control managers were concerned to find a bunch of Aedes aegyptias as far west as southern California, and they’re multiplying quickly. The female of the species lays up to 200 eggs several times a season, just above the water line in containers of standing water.
Aedes aegypti is the perfect vector for a handful of frightening tropical diseases, including yellow fever, West Nile virus, and dengue fever. But they’re also a great transmitter of a little known virus that’s been popping up in the Caribbean this year: Chikungunya.
Chikungunya is an acute virus transmitted from the bite of an infected mosquito. It’s not usually fatal, but it causes acute fever, joint pain, and rash. What’s scary is that it has a strikingly high rate of epidemic—up to 50% of potential human hosts will contract the disease when bitten. And of those, around 10% will have persistent arthritis in the smaller joints for up to three years. There’s currently no vaccine to prevent or medicine to treat the disease—the best thing we’ve got is bug spray.
In late 2013, the virus was found for the first time in the Americas, on islands in the Caribbean. More than 5,900 suspected cases of chikungunya have been reported in the Caribbean and South America since December 6. The Public Health Ministry of the Dominican Republic recently reported 3,690 suspected cases in the San Cristobal province alone. Although this may not sound as bad as a disease like Ebola (which kills you through internal hemorrhaging in your gastrointestinal tract), a full-blown outbreak of chikungunya, replete with hundreds of southerners experiencing long-term arthritic symptoms and fever, would take a serious economic toll on the isolated rural areas of the deep south.
So, on to the question: How worried should we be about this particular disease? I called up Dr. Tim Brooks at the Rare and Imported Pathogens Department of Public Health England (PHE). He’s been helping to run the main UK referral center for the disease out of the PHE office, so I figured he’d be able to tell me whether or not you should cancel your upcoming vacation to New Mexico.
Health workers identifying chikungunya in a patient after the disease traveled to the south of France via a tourist. Photo courtesy Valentin Pezet, Jules Foulongne, and Nicolas Gueniot
VICE: So what exactly is Chikungunya? What is it named for?
Dr. Tim Brooks: Chikungunya is a disease that’s pretty much had its day, but it comes around every so often. Its name translates to “that which bends up,” because the biggest problem with the disease is the arthritic debilitation that follows the infection. It’s also got a fascinating history: Chikungunya was first pinned down in Tanzania in 1952, but historical accounts appear across Asia and Africa as early as 1779. Historically, outbreaks began in the Indian Ocean Basin, and it’s been able to travel very successfully since then.
What are the symptoms exactly?
Normally chikungunya presents with joint pains, a rash, and acute fever, followed by all the other symptoms you associate with high fever: headache, diarrhea, back pain. The main problem is the arthritic pain, which does not go away for maybe 10% of patients. It can persist for up to three years, and is very debilitating. It tends to affect the smaller joints, causing local swelling and pain. Once you’ve got it, you’ve got a lifelong immunity to it, but it will generally infect a large portion of the population, move on, and then disappear until the next generation comes up.
Reviews of Churches That Won’t Stop Growing
Living in the South, I see a lot of churches. They’re fucking everywhere. And they keep growing. There’s so much money coming in, it’s almost like they don’t know what to do with it. Some have grown so much over the last decade it’s like they’re alive, part of the sky.
The Church of the Apostles sits off to the side of I-75, the major highway running through downtown Atlanta. Every time I see it it’s gotten taller or wider, looming ever closer to the highway and knocking more trees down. I keep thinking one day it will encroach onto the road, making it impossible to pass.
I’ve never seen any lights on in any of the rooms. There don’t seem to be any people coming or going, no one there in any of the countless windows that dot the expanding flat stone face. It’s like the building is splitting and expanding by itself while no one’s watching. At night it seems to knit into the land, impossible to tell where it begins and ends.
I often wonder what a church does with all those rooms. What do they keep in there? How many floors can god walk up? How many of the rooms are locked? How many of them have no doors? Are any of the rooms ever full? I get a low weird cold feeling thinking of all the people dressed up and praying the same words all at the same time in a building large enough to bury a small army.
Them Sounds Is Furious
I Am Not from This Planet is a column where we give James Franco’s Florida-bred, gun-toting, big-bootie-loving pal Alien the floor to sound off on whatever he likes. For this inaugural edition, Alien breaks us off some knowledge with a review of William Faulkner’s literary classic, The Sound and the Fury.
William Faulkner one bad motherfucker when it come to putting them words on paper. Of all them books that boy put out, Sound and the Fury holds a special spot in my heart—kinda like my first piece of ass. I was just a little boy, like 16 or something when I first read it and it stuck with me to this day.
The Sound and the Fury was William’s fourth book, and it has a stream of consciousness flow that be like one of my fly-ass freestyles. It reads like the boy just wrote that shit straight off the top of the head. The vibe has a lot to do with the South, which I can relate to since I come straight outta country-ass motherfucking St. Petersburg, Florida. This book airs out the dirty drawers of the South by following the breakdown of the Compsons, a family of rich-ass crackers, after the Civil War. The Compsons do all types of shady shit and end up losing all their power and their paper.
Black, White & Greek
In 1963, in the midst of the heated debate over the desegregation of American schools, the University of Alabama announced that it would for the first time allow African Americans to enroll. Fifty years later, in September 2013, two University of Alabama sororities rejected an African American student because of her race. As a result, an anti-racist student group called the Mallet Assembly and other members of the community took action to prevent segregation within the university’s Greek system.
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Jody Pendarvis is a kooky southern gentleman who has built a ramshackle UFO welcome center in his backyard in rural Bowman, South Carolina. If aliens happen to land around Bowman, they’ll be greeted by Jody, who claims he’ll be able to talk to them, and his homemade alien spacecraft full of clutter. We recently flew down to Bowman to meet Jody and see the welcome center for ourselves.
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The Voting Rights Act Is a Mess, but We Still Need It
The Supreme Court ruled today that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which said that some (mostly Southern) states and communities in the US had to ask the federal government for permission to change their voting rules and procedures, was unconstitutional. The majority of the court held that while the South used to be hella racist back in the 60s, things are now way more chill, thanks in part to the VRA, so the law doesn’t need to exist in its current form. Right-wingers celebrated this as a victory for federalsim (or whatever), while the MSNBC crowd mourned this as the destruction of one of the most important laws of the Civil Rights era—an NAACP official said, “Today will be remembered as a step backwards in the march towards equal rights.”
Now, I don’t think that every single person who opposes Section 4 is a racist. I know it’s not fun being called a racist. When I was in sixth grade, I was accused of being a Nazi because I was making a picture of B.J. Blazkowicz, the hero from Wolfenstein 3D, busting a cap in a Nazi’s ass. To portray this accurately, I had to draw the Nazi’s swastika armband, and according to some of my classmates, this made me Nazi. My teachers, fortunately, didn’t take any of this seriously because at 12 I looked like a rabbi in a Tazmanian Devil T-shirt. The following week, another kid wore highwaters to school and that took the heat off me.
You know what’s worse than being accused of racism, though? Having racism directed at you, which is something that happens in the United States fairly frequently. There were 2,924 racially-motivated hate crimes in 2011, the most recent year statistics are available for, and there was an actual lynching of an African-American in Texas as recently as 1998.
More statistics: According to a 2011 Gallup poll, 84 percent of white Americans approved of interracial marriage. But, framed another way, 16 percent of whites disapprove of interracial marriage. You can slice off part of the population, like Mississippians. Another survey, this one from Public Policy Polling, found that 46 percent of Mississippi Republicans, unbelievably, think that whites shouldn’t be allowed to marry blacks. That is some old-timey racism, of the sort that isn’t that uncommon in Mississippi—which is the whole reason the VRA exists in the first place.
Welcome to Christmas, Florida
It was hot enough to burn the dead lovebugs on my car’s hood. Farmland and pine trees were on the horizon, streets named after eight reindeer and brown wreaths hung on mailboxes. It’s not a holiday for the people of Christmas, Florida.
Christmas sits between Orlando and Cape Canaveral. The yuletide name of the community comes from the Second Seminole War. On December 25th, 1837, more than 2,000 US soldiers built a supply fort for the war. They never saw a day of battle. The place today seems like an outpost vibrating with its pioneer past.
Highway 50 runs straight into Country Craft ‘n Christmas. This year-round holiday store looks like a winter cottage airdropped into Florida-cracker land.
“First thing that I do in the morning, change out the numbers,” Becky Hamilton said.
Hamilton opened her doors in 2001, as owner and operator, always wanting to own a X-mas gift store.
Hamilton is more than just a business owner in Christmas, she is part of the historical association. She handed me some pamphlets for the Fort Christmas Museum.
“Why do I keep seeing the same last names popping up everywhere?” I asked.
“The town started with 21 pioneer families,” she said. “There are still descendants living in the community today.”
She then made a comment under her breath about cousins marrying through the years. As I left, she gave me a baseball-shaped gingerbread cookie and an “I Love My Cat/Christmas, Florida” nail file for my wife.
Up a couple blocks from Hamilton’s store is the Christmas Post Office. People come from all over to this post office to get their Christmas, Florida, postmark for their holiday mail.
The post office employee seemed caught off guard when I walked through her door.
“Do you get a lot of people during the holidays?” I asked.
She told me that there are lines out the door, so long that they run all the way around the side of the building.
I asked her about this mailbox which read: “LETTERS TO SANTA.”
White Student Union
We recently went to Towson University to speak with Matthew Heimbach, the founder of a group that advocates for “persons of European heritage.” We also met the students who want him off campus… or at least muzzled. ‘White Student Union’ is a documentary about race, class, and self-righteous college students yelling at each other.
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'Triple Hate' is a four-part documentary about Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Memphis City Council, the Klan, the Crips, Ulysses S. Grant, racism, and the specter of history. It will be airing every day this week, only on VICE.com.
Watch Part 1