Pediatrician Jennifer Halverson will never forget her 36th birthday.
The St. Paul native was volunteering at a maternity clinic in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. She felt great — she went to her job that day and then out to dinner with friends.
But when she got home and went to sleep that night in May, something didn’t feel right.
"Then I woke up at 3 in the morning," she says, "and what struck me the most was that my shoulders were on fire. It was like I was being stabbed in both shoulders."
The pain quickly spread to all of Halverson’s joints — her hips, her knees and elbows. Even her fingers and toes hurt.
Halverson also had a fever, a rash and painful sores in her mouth. When she flew home to Minnesota, the doctors confirmed what she thought might be true: chikungunya. Though the rash and sores quickly faded, and the illness is rarely fatal, the joint pain it causes can last for months. Halverson is still hurting — she says she still can’t open jars.
A year ago, chikungunya didn’t even exist in the Western Hemisphere. It was only found in Africa and Asia. But in October, the mosquito-borne illness cropped up on the island of St. Martin. Then it spread like wildfire.
The Pan American Health Organization reported Monday that over the past seven months, chikungunya has sickened more than a quarter-million people in the Caribbean. And the nasty virus has already started to trickle into the U.S.
Photo: A resident of San Cristobal waits to be treated for symptoms of chikungunya fever at Juan Pablo Hospital in the Dominican Republic. The Caribbean nation has reported more than 100,000 cases this year. (Erika Santelices/AFP/Getty Images)