Constable: Ebola is not what devastated this Elgin couple
In the midst of 2014's outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus and fears that it was poised to sweep across the United States, a disease-carrying mosquito in Florida made news of its own.
The first locally acquired case of chikungunya in our nation was diagnosed on July 17 in a Florida man who had been bitten by a mosquito. As did most Americans, Ted and Michelle Roesner of Elgin missed that story.
Now, at a time when suburbanites are seeking tropical climes to escape the cold and snow, the Roesners qualify as unfortunate experts on chikungunya. While the virus in their bodies is no longer active, they still struggle with the intense pain, stiffness, swelling and other effects of the devastating virus that they brought home in December after a dream vacation to Jamaica.
In August, the Roesners were consumed with fears that Michelle might have breast cancer. When her biopsy came back negative five days later, the couple wanted to have some fun.
"We were sitting outside drinking wine and decided we should go somewhere," Michelle Roesner remembers. "I got the news Wednesday, and we booked the trip on Wednesday night."
They celebrated her 49th birthday on Nov. 26, hosted Thanksgiving dinner on the 27th, and flew into Jamaica on the 28th.
Although it rained often during the week they stayed at Sandals Grande Riviera resort in Ocho Rios, the couple enjoyed a wonderful view, met other interesting couples and had fun. One of the young servers at the resort was limping badly and seemed to be in pain. When Michelle Roesner asked what had happened to her, the teenager mumbled, "Chick-un-goon-ya."
"I had no idea what that was," Michelle Roesner says. "I remember telling my husband, 'We're not eating the chicken.' We never even heard of chikungunya."
More Americans might have heard about the disease last week after actress Lindsay Lohan said she contracted chikungunya while vacationing in Bora Bora and posted a selfie in her underwear with the hashtag "mycalvins are helping me fight off my chikungunya hehe." Mild cases often run their course within a week. Other cases linger for weeks or months or even lead to chronic conditions.
First discovered in Africa, chikungunya spread through tropical Asia and turned up in Italy and France before showing up in the Caribbean in December 2013. Not a contagious disease, it is spread when a mosquito bites an infected person and then bites someone else.
While chikungunya rarely contributes to death, "the toll it inflicts ranks high on the misery index," reads the blog of Ann Powers, a research microbiologist and chief of the alphavirus laboratory in the Centers for Disease Control's division of vector-borne diseases. "It hits fast and hard and with almost no subtlety."
Severe pain, joint swelling, rashes, high fevers and headaches can last for days or even years. There is no vaccine to prevent it and no cure, so patients merely treat the symptoms.
The two mosquito species that transmit chikungunya -- Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, often called the Asian tiger mosquito -- are found in about a third of the United States, including southern Illinois.
Enjoying the warm temperatures of Jamaica, Ted Roesner says he remembers getting a mosquito bite on his foot. His wife recalls a similar bite on her leg. By the time their vacation ended and they were boarding a plane to Miami, Ted Roesner's skin was flushed and his right wrist and left knee were stiff and sore. He thought maybe those were reactions from a couple's massage the day before.
"By the time we got to Miami, he was not feeling well at all," Michelle Roesner says. "By the time we got to O'Hare, he could hardly walk."
He ended up in the emergency room at Advocate Sherman Hospital in Elgin, where he was admitted with a temperature of 103.9 and given a narcotic painkiller and fluids. Michelle Roesner went home that night, but not for long.
"I woke up at 6:30 in the morning to pain in the first digit on my right index finger, and in my toe next to my big toe on my left foot," she says. A "hot spot" on her left shin hurt to touch. She made it to the hospital that morning to visit her husband and ended up in the emergency room.
"I was on fire and I couldn't walk. It happened so quickly," Michelle Roesner says. "The word 'debilitating' for pain doesn't even come close."
The stiffness and pain moved from Ted Roesner's wrist to his ankles and knees, "so I could carry her," he says. The location and severity of the pain and stiffness still varies.
"Morning is always a surprise. Where is it going to be?" says Ted Roesner, a 53-year-old mechanic and technician who says his bosses have been understanding on days he can't work. "Every morning your body is choosing the site to put up the boxing ring."
The pain is crippling.
"On a scale of zero to 10, it's a 12 easy, and you could add a zero after that," says Michelle Roesner, who has taken some sick days and worked from home in her job providing support for the CEO of Fabric Images Inc. in Elgin. She also has a baking business called "The Curious Cupcake."
"It's off the scale," Ted Roesner says of the pain. "It will test you to tell how tough you are."
They say they are finding some relief through Dr. Fred Schultz, a medical doctor who operates the Center for Health and Healing in Wheaton. Their holistic treatments include vitamins, immune system boosters such as low-dose naltroxine, and medicines made of earthworms proteins.
"There's no cure. There's no magic pill," Ted Roesner says.
"Every day, it's a challenge," Michelle Roesner adds.
The Roesners, whose chikungunya diagnosis was reported to the Kane County Health Department, are among the 13 Illinois residents since 2013 who have picked up the disease during trips out of the United States. If it were the summer, when mosquitoes are feeding, the Roesners would have been asked to stay inside, says Tom Schlueter, health communications coordinator for Kane County.
Just 11 people, all in Florida, have contracted the disease from mosquitoes in the United States. But the first transmission in Puerto Rico was diagnosed in May, and now more than 10,000 people on that island have been infected, according to the World Health Organization. U.S. health officials "believe chikungunya will behave like dengue virus in the United States, where imported cases have resulted in sporadic local transmission but have not caused widespread outbreaks," says a report on the CDC website.
"The best way to protect yourself and your family from chikungunya is to prevent being bitten by mosquitoes by using insect repellent, wearing long sleeves and pants, using air conditioning or window/door screens to keep mosquitoes outside, and reducing mosquito breeding ground such as standing water," concludes the CDC, which has been working with the Pan American Health Organization since 2006 to spread awareness about the disease.
The Roesners say they just want everyone planning getaways to tropical climates to realize the risks.
"We want to let people know what's out there," Michelle Roesner says. "We don't want anyone else to go through this."