Heard of Chagas disease? A recent report calls it the "new HIV/AIDS of the Americas." How about Chikungunya disease? Laura Harrington, a medical entomologist at Cornell University, recently warned it could spread to New York City.
An article from ClimateWire published in Scientific American says that once-rare diseases are spreading to the U.S. Researchers are considering various causes, including climate change, immigration, and more Americans traveling to exotic locales.
Often the diseases originate in "warmer, wetter, and poorer" areas of the world, and are spread through bugs, contaminated water, and poor housing and sanitation. Most of these new-to-the-U.S. diseases disproportionately affect the poor.
In 2009, for example, dengue fever, which is spread by mosquitoes, infected more than 60 people in south Florida, the first outbreak since 1934, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Chagas disease already has a foothold in Central and South America. Like AIDS, the disease is chronic and requires prolonged treatment. But Chagas is spread through insects called kissing bugs, and affects the heart and digestive organs. It may have been the disease that killed Charles Darwin, notes Science Daily.
With warmer temperatures delaying frosts that kill disease-carrying insects, there's the potential for year-round disease transmission, C. Ben Beard, associate director for climate change at the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases told ClimateWire.
"Anything that impacts climate is likely to have a significant impact on disease incidence," he said. "It's likely we'll see northward expansion of some of the diseases already here."
As for Chikungunya, Harrington says the question isn't if, but when. There is no cure or vaccine.