Chikungunya—a painful mosquito-borne disease—hits United States

Sept. 27, 2014—It’s arrived: Chikungunya—an often painful and sometimes debilitating mosquito-borne disease caused by the chikungunya virus—has surfaced in the United States. While American chikungunya cases have until now occurred only in travelers who acquired it overseas—about 28 a year since 2006—the virus has now spread through mosquitoes in the United States.

Historically, chikungunya (pronounced chik-un-GUHN-ya) has been limited to countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Indian and Pacific Oceans. In late 2013, however, it was reported in the Caribbean for the first time.

So far this year, more than 1,000 people in the U.S. have contracted chikungunya while abroad, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But since July, at least nine people have contracted the disease from mosquitos in Florida.

Due to outbreaks in the Caribbean and elsewhere, CDC expects that more American travelers will be infected. CDC cautioned that these imported cases could mean that the virus will spread further in the United States.

How it spreads

The chikungunya virus is spread by mosquitoes: After one bites someone who is infected, it passes the virus on to the next person it bites. Two species of mosquito carry the virus: Aedes aegypti, which is found in the southeastern United States and parts of the Southwest, and Aedes albopictus, found in the Southeast, East Coast, Mid-Atlantic and lower Midwest regions and parts of the Southwest. Both species bite mostly during the daytime.

Symptoms and treatment

Chikungunya’s most common symptoms are fever and severe joint pain, frequently in the hands and feet. While the virus is rarely fatal, it can cause headaches, rashes, muscle pain and swollen joints. Most people will feel better in a week, though joint pain can linger for months.

Although there is no vaccine or antiviral treatment for chikungunya, protection against mosquito bites can help stop the spread of the virus. If you have symptoms of chikungunya, tell your doctor—especially if you’ve recently traveled.

 

The take-home message
With no vaccine yet available—and the recent emergence of chikungunya in the United States—it’s more important than ever to protect yourself from mosquitoes. Avoiding a bite will not only keep you safe from chikungunya, but it can also protect you from other diseases mosquitoes can spread, such as the West Nile virus.

Here’s your best defense against bites, according to CDC:

Cover up. Headed outside? Then wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants and socks.

Use insect repellent on exposed skin and clothing. Choose a repellent with one of these active ingredients: DEET, picaridin, IR3535, para-menthane-diol or oil of lemon eucalyptus. Follow the instructions on the product. Do not use oil of lemon eucalyptus on children younger than 3 years old. Do not spray repellant on skin covered by clothing.

If you’re doubling up with insect repellent and sunscreen, apply the sunscreen first. Always follow the label instructions when using sunscreen.

Use permethrin on gear and clothes. Treat clothing, shoes and camping gear with certain products containing this repellant/insecticide. Treated items will repel and kill mosquitoes and ticks through several washings.

Mosquito-proof your home. Install screens on doors and windows to keep mosquitoes outside. Keep cool with air conditioning. You can help reduce the number of mosquitoes around your home by regularly emptying standing water from gutters, flowerpots, birdbaths and pool covers. To stay current on chikungunya developments in the United States, visit the CDC website for updates.

 

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