Mosquito-Borne Disease Chikungunya Arrives in U.S.

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and other public health officials are on high alert and making preparations in the United States as the first domestically-transmitted cases of chikungunya (chik-en-GUN-ye) have been confirmed in Florida, joining 31 states including North Carolina which have seen it introduced by residents returning from overseas travel. Chikungunya, which has already infected more than 10,000 people in the West Indies, is a debilitating mosquito-borne disease carried by the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes, which are daytime biting mosquitoes commonly found in the U.S.

“Aedes mosquitoes are potential carriers of viruses such as yellow fever, dengue and alphaviruses like chikungunya. Humans who already have the chikungunya virus infect the mosquitoes that bite them and the mosquitoes in turn spread the disease when they bite others,” said Dr. David Sanders, associate professor of biology at Purdue University and an expert on mosquito-borne diseases.

Because there is no vaccine or treatment for chikungunya, questions are emerging about what families and individuals can do to guard against potential infection. Dr. Sanders explains that the best way to avoid mosquito bites is to use multiple types of mosquito abatement tactics, such as:

    Eliminating standing water in places like bird bath pools and making sure gutters are unclogged
    Wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants when outdoors
    Applying topical insect repellants that include DEET
    Using flying insect traps that attract mosquitoes

As a two-fold health warning to Americans and to keep the disease from further invading the U.S., public health officials are urging residents to know the facts about this disease and be on the lookout for family and neighbors demonstrating symptoms, especially those who have recently returned from the World Cup in Brazil where chikungunya is prevalent. Symptoms of chikungunya, which can be painful and last for up to a few weeks, include fever, headache, rashes, vomiting, exhaustion and muscle or joint pain, according to the CDC.

“[Aedes] mosquitoes do not travel far and typically spend their whole lives traveling no further than the length of a few football fields, so the mosquitoes we should be worried about are in our backyards,” said Dr. Sanders.

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