Chikungunya virus is spreading in the Americas. Florida’s Department of Health confirmed a chikungunya case of the disease on Friday, adding to the increasing case numbers. Infected female mosquitoes biting humans transmit the disease, and infected humans can pass the disease on to mosquitoes that do not carry the virus.
A 49-year-old woman who had traveled outside of the U.S. recently is involved in this new case. Health officials in Duval County, where the case was reported from, are telling residents and visitors alike to “drain and cover” as means to prevent getting bitten by possibly infected mosquitoes.
Advice from officials includes: draining large quantities of still water around homes to decrease mosquito reproduction, especially from old tires, buckets and pool covers that can collect rain water; wearing insect/mosquito repellent that contains ingredients such as oil of lemon eucalyptus on top of sunscreen on exposed skin; covering skin with long-sleeved tops and long pants; and installing screens on windows and doors. According to the CDC, mosquitoes infected with the virus are most likely to bite during the day.
Millions of chikungunya cases have been reported worldwide since 2004 when the virus reappeared. Affected countries include France, Zimbabwe, India, Malaysia, Guinea, Haiti, Puerto Rico and Guyana. The Americas are expected to see an increase in cases of chikungunya virus as summer progresses.
In the U.S., cases of chikungunya virus were reported in some travelers who had returned from the Caribbean. As of June 2, 28 cases were reported from America, with Florida having the highest number. The state is also on alert for dengue fever that is also transmitted by mosquitoes, with 24 cases reported as of last week. Puerto Rico is the only American location so far where an infected mosquito there transmitted the disease to a human.
Guyana reported 12 new cases of the disease on Wednesday. The government has resorted to spraying pesticides in attempts to control infected mosquito reproduction. According to a recent chikungunya update from the CDC, 103,018 suspected cases and 4,406 confirmed cases were reported in the Americas as of May 30.
No vaccine exists, so prevention is key. However, once a person gets infected with chikungunya virus, they are likely to develop immunity to the disease. Those at risk of developing a severe infection include people aged 65 and above, diabetics, sufferers from heart disease, and, in rare cases, newborn babies during delivery if the mother is infected and exposes her child to the disease.
Symptoms can be severe and manifest three to seven days after one becomes infected. They include fever, muscle and joint pains, joint swelling, rash and headaches. Blood tests are how one is diagnosed with the disease. Treatment consists of taking pain medication, getting plenty of rest, and consuming enough fluids to avoid dehydration.
The first chikungunya outbreak occurred in Tanzania in 1952. The name comes from a word in the Kimakonde language spoken in parts of Tanzania and Mozambique which means “to become contorted,” as it describes the bent-over posture of those who suffer from joint pains associated with the virus, according to WHO.
With summer here and the Caribbean filled with popular vacation spots, travelers are advised to be wary of mosquitoes. “Imported” chikungunya cases are likely to increase across the Americas, and could become an epidemic on American soil if people are not careful and informed.
By Sibylla Chipaziwa