The FDA has just approved the world’s first chikungunya vaccine, offering people protection for the first time against this rare but painful and potentially deadly infection.
Chikungunya derives from a word meaning roughly “bent over in pain” in the East African Makonde language, due to the disease’s severe joint pain and stiffness. It has become a global threat over the last two decades, with cases appearing in over 40 countries.
The challenge: Like malaria and dengue, chikungunya virus is transmitted by mosquito bites. It was first identified in Tanzania in 1952, but in 2005, it jumped to islands in the Indian Ocean, then hit India, where it caused a massive outbreak of over 1 million cases, before reaching southeast Asia. In 2013, cases appeared in the Caribbean, and it has now spread throughout the Americas.
The most common symptoms of chikungunya are fever and joint pain, and most people feel better after about a week of bed rest. That’s the good news. The bad news is a chikungunya infection can be deadly for newborns (who can also be infected through their pregnant mothers) or lead to serious, long-lasting health issues for seniors and people with underlying medical problems.