GENEVA (AP): A severe achy-joint fever spreading in Asia via mosquitoes could easily reach more countries in the region and potentially take hold in Europe and the United States, World Health Organization experts warn.
The fever, called chikungunya, is ravaging parts of Indonesia, sickening people with rashes, vomiting, headaches and joint pain so intense it is often too painful for victims to sit or stand.
"It's enormously disruptive ... the outbreaks are very abrupt and intense," said Michael Nathan, a mosquito-borne disease expert at the WHO in Geneva.
"Lots and lots of people are seeking help all at the same time and services struggle to cope with that."
Singapore reported eight suspected cases this week, the first time the virus has spread locally, according to a Ministry of Health statement. Officials were scouring the area to destroy mosquito breeding grounds, and tests were conducted to ensure no one else was infected, it said.
Taiwan also detected three cases in travelers from Indonesia, two in December and another earlier last year.
Nearly 300 people in northern Italy were sickened in 2007 after an infected traveler came from India, the first time an imported case of the tropical disease sparked a local outbreak in Europe.
Although rarely fatal, the virus can lead to death in patients with other underlying health conditions and is especially hard on the elderly.
Symptoms are similar to dengue fever, another mosquito-borne disease, but joint and muscle pain is typically more intense and longer lasting with arthritis-like aches reported months or even years after infection. Dengue is considered more dangerous because it can cause internal bleeding that leads to death.
Chikungunya was first identified in Tanzania in the early 1950s and has caused periodic outbreaks in Asia and Africa since the 1960s.