In just one year, a mosquito-borne illness has spread across the Caribbean and Central and South America, infecting more than one million people.
The illness, chikungunya, is usually not fatal, but its symptoms include horrendous joint paint, severe headaches, and fever. Hospitals are overwhelmed, The Associated Press reports, and the economy is being hit hard in several areas; a study by Universidad Eugenio Maria de Hostos in the Dominican Republic found that almost 13 percent of businesses in the country said employees missed work in June because of the virus.
Colombia has 4,800 cases, and the health ministry believes there will be close to 700,000 by early next year. El Salvador has 30,000 suspected cases, health officials say, up from 2,300 at the beginning of August, and in Venezuela, officials have reported 1,700 cases, with that number expected to go up, too. The Dominican Republic has been the hardest hit, with half of all cases in the Americas.
At least 24 countries and territories in the Western Hemisphere have reported cases since the first one was registered in French St. Martin in late 2013, the Pan American Health Organization says. To combat chikungunya, officials are spraying pesticide and asking the public to get rid of standing water, where mosquitos can breed. The virus is spread when mosquitos bite an infected person and then feed on someone else.
So far, 113 deaths are linked to this outbreak, and there is no cure or vaccine; most people are treated with the pain reliever acetaminophen. "The pain is unbelievable," Catalino Castillo, 39, a patient in San Salvador, told AP. "It's been 10 days and it won't let up."