Mosquito-carried virus Chikungunya arrives

Thursday , July 24, 2014 - 10:36 AM

Standard-Examiner correspondent

A mosquito-borne virus with the tongue-twisting name chikungunya has arrived on U.S. soil, infecting people in 31 states so far.

While the virus hasn't arrived in Utah as of yet, it's close to our doorstep. Both Idaho and Nevada have reported cases of the illness. While most cases are contracted by people traveling outside of the U.S., for the first time, two Floridians were infected domestically this week, health authorities said.

The virus is spread through a variety of mosquitoes called Aedes Aegypti and Aedes Albopictus, said Weber-Morgan Health Department public relations director Lori Buttars. Unlike West Nile virus, these mosquitoes are daytime biters.

The chikungunya virus won't likely kill you, but you won't forget having it, either, say health officials. The name comes from a Makonde word meaning ‘that which bends up,’ referring to the contortions sufferers put themselves through due to the debilitating joint pain is causes throughout the body. Other symptoms include rapid onset of fever, headache and possible rash. Symptoms appear three to seven days after a person is bitten by the mosquito.

"Chikungunya fever does not often result in death; however, some individuals may experience persistent joint pain," said Rebecca Ward, health educator at the Utah Department of Health. "There is currently no vaccine or medication to prevent chikungunya fever."

As of July 15, a total of 357 chikungunya cases have been reported from U.S. states and territories, said Ward. On Wednesday, 10 additional cases were reported in North Carolina. Dallas confirmed its first case on Wednesday.

Ward said if a person experiences symptoms of chikungunya fever, they should consult with their health care provider immediately and protect themselves against further mosquito bites.

"A person infected with chikungunya should stay indoors as much as possible until symptoms subside to prevent further transmission," Ward said. "Avoiding mosquito bites while you are sick will help to protect others from getting infected."

That's because a mosquito can bite an infected person and transmit it to another person.

Buttars said protection against the virus is the same as it is for West Nile. Use insect repellent when outdoors. Repellents with DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus and IR3535 are effective. Insect repellent should not be used on children younger than 2 months old. Cover up (long sleeves, pants, etc.) when outdoors or when you are in areas where mosquitoes are likely to be. Practice water management. Drain standing water to stop mosquitoes from multiplying in such areas as birdbaths, swimming pools and pets’ water bowls.

In the meantime, local and state health officials are on the lookout for both West Nile and chikungunya activity and will keep the public informed.

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