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There are numerous insect groups that can transmit disease to humans. Fleas have long been associated with disease transmission to humans, as they were instrumental in facilitating the spread of the plague during the late middle ages. As you probably know, this disease pandemic wiped out one third of Europe’s population. This pandemic established fleas as the most devastating disease carrying insects in existence. Since then, however, mosquitoes have overshadowed fleas as the most deadly of all insects. Tragically, around 500 million people contract a mosquito-borne disease each year, and 2.7 million people die from mosquito-borne disease annually. Here in the United States, as well as in most other developed countries, national public health campaigns have largely succeeded in educating the public about the dangers of sustaining mosquito bites. Despite this, some mosquito-borne diseases can have bizarre effects that no American would have thought possible. For example, a female tourist permanently lost her ability to see in her right eye as a result of contracting a mosquito-borne disease while vacationing in the Caribbean.

The woman who lost her vision was 69 years old when she contracted the mosquito-borne disease known as chikungunya fever in the Bahamas. Shortly after sustaining the bites, the woman developed flu-like symptoms and joint stiffness. Despite being treated at a local clinic, the woman was not diagnosed with the disease until she returned home to the United Kingdom. After a month or so, the woman’s symptoms mostly went away, but she began losing sight in her right eye. Doctors found that her eyesight troubles were being caused by a swollen optic nerve, so they resorted to steroid treatments while frantically running tests to determine the mysterious cause of the woman’s eyesight loss. After several weeks, doctors learned that she had contracted chikungunya fever. Despite the doctor’s initial confusion, researchers have noted eyesight issues in patients with this disease, but this was the first time that a British woman developed this rare symptom of chikungunya. Unfortunately, chikungunya may be spreading to new populations within developed countries, as an American man contracted this disease in Florida last year. This was the first chikungunya case in history to emerge in the US.

Do you think that chikungunya fever cases in the US will emerge within the next decade or so?