WASHINGTON, May 23 (UPI) -- A debilitating virus called Chikungunya is continuing to infect thousands throughout the islands of the Caribbean. And health officials expect it to make its way to the United States sooner rather than later given the high tourism traffic between the regions.
The virus, which is characterized by fever, headaches and extreme joint pain, was originally relegated to Asia and Africa, but in December began appearing in the Caribbean. Since then, more than 55,000 cases have been reported, according to the Pan American Health Organization.
Tourism likely brought the disease to the islands, and tourism will carry it onward, health officials suggest.
"With the increase in travelers the likelihood that something like this would happen goes up and eventually it did," explained Dr. Roger Nasci, a researcher at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "We ended up with somebody at the right time and the right place infecting mosquitoes."
Mosquitos pick up the disease from infected humans and transmit it to new hosts -- mostly more humans. Most recently, mosquitos and people have helped carry the disease to French Guiana, the first confirmed appearance of the virus on the South American mainland.
The virus is not deadly, but it can be near crippling -- the symptomatic joint pain rendering some patients immobile. In some instances, the joint pain persists for several months.
"Chikungunya" is derived from an African word that translates loosely to "contorted with pain."