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It’s likely that 2014 will be remembered in the Caribbean as the year of chikungunya – a previously little-known virus which became a household name as it spread throughout the region. However, by August, health officials in the USA were reporting that for the first time, U.S. mosquitos were spreading the virus. Two people in Florida were reported to have acquired chikungunya infections domestically; in both cases a person infected with the virus after visiting the Caribbean was then bitten again by an uninfected mosquito in Florida, which then transmitted the illness further.
“The arrival of chikungunya virus, first in the tropical Americas and now in the United States, underscores the risks posed by this and other exotic pathogens,” said Roger Nasci of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a prepared statement.
Chikungunya virus is rarely fatal. Infected people typically suffer fever, severe joint pain and swelling, muscle aches, headaches, rash or a combination of symptoms. The name is derived from the Tanganyikan language, Kimakonde, and means “that which bends up,” describing the debilitating pain infected people suffer. Patients usually recover in about a week, although some people suffer long-term joint pain. There is no vaccine and no specific treatment.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
Chikungunya is a viral disease transmitted to humans by infected mosquitoes. It causes fever and severe joint pain. Other symptoms include muscle pain, headache, nausea, fatigue and rash. This virus is not spread person to person, but rather by the bite of the Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus) or the yellow fever mosquito (Aedes aegypti). The disease shares some clinical signs with dengue, and can be misdiagnosed in areas where dengue is common. There is no cure for the disease. The only advice for avoiding infection is to avoid mosquito bites. Treatment is focused on relieving the symptoms. The proximity of mosquito breeding sites to human habitation is a significant risk factor for chikungunya. Since 2004, chikungunya fever has reached epidemic proportions, with considerable morbidity and suffering. The disease occurs in Africa, Asia and the Indian subcontinent. In recent decades mosquito vectors of chikungunya have spread to Europe and the Americas. In 2007, disease transmission was reported for the first time in a localized outbreak in north-eastern Italy.
Use mosquito repellent on exposed skin. Wear long sleeves shirts and pants. Have secure screens on windows and doors to keep mosquitoes out. Get rid of mosquito breeding sites by emptying standing water from flower pots, buckets and barrels. Change the water in pet dishes and replace the water in bird baths weekly. Drill holes in tire swings so water drains out. Additionally, a person with chikungunya fever should limit their exposure to mosquito bites in order to avoid further spreading the infection. The person should stay indoors or under a mosquito net.