When Clare Rourke woke up one morning March of last year with a sore toe, she didn’t worry too much about it. She, her husband and their three daughters were living in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, for a few months as part of a family year abroad. She and her husband had traveled widely — through India, the Middle East and South America — and had never been seriously ill. And they took necessary precautions, making sure everyone in the family received the recommended vaccinations.
But by the middle of that day, Rourke was sicker than she had ever been before. “I hurt in so many places — my feet, hand, wrists, ankles, elbows, knees,” she says. “I actually remember thinking that I just might die.” Her joints were so swollen, hot and painful that she couldn’t rest her elbows on the bed. Her temperature rose to 104 degrees. “I felt like something was attacking me and I was seriously losing the fight,” she says.
That night, two of her daughters also became achy and feverish, and within a few days, all three had rashes on their hands, legs and arms. They were infected with chikungunya, a virus originally from Central Africa.
The virus, transmitted by mosquito bites, was rampaging through Yogyakarta — part of an outbreak that has stretched across the Indian Ocean, India and Southeast Asia since 2005. Now it is roaring through the Western Hemisphere. In December 2013, the first locally transmitted case of chikungunya in the Americas was identified on the Caribbean island of St. Martin. As of mid-April, more than 25,000 cases had been reported across the region, from the Dominican Republic to French Guiana, on the northeast coast of South America.