Independence Day may be the most popular outdoor holiday, with people taking to their pools, grills and patios but with the outdoors comes mosquitoes and, this year, a new mosquito-transmitted virus on the scene.
Chikungunya virus, found for the first time in the Caribbean Islands in 2013, has made its way to the U.S., infecting one and possibly four others in the state of Alabama as of Thursday. Deaths from the virus are rare, according to a release from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but people should still take caution.
Dr. Dee Jones, state public health veterinarian at the Alabama Department of Public Health, said the virus was brought to the agency’s attention around two weeks ago. He also mentioned that humans infect mosquitoes with chikungunya.
“We have had one confirmed positive case and four preliminary positive cases, but so far, all of our confirmed positives have had associated travels to the Caribbean,” he said.
A major concern of the Alabama Department of Public Health is that those who have contracted the virus can return to the U.S. and infect native mosquitoes, Jones said. The good news is that this does not seem to have happened yet.
“Some of the press reports I’ve read so far seem to indicate that people are getting bit by mosquitoes here and getting the virus but, as far as we know, that is not the case,” he said. “It could be the case in the future if we had enough positives, but we are not there yet.”
Fever and severe joint pain are the common symptoms associated with chikungunya virus, the center announced, along with headaches, muscle pain, joint swelling and rashes. Currently, there is no vaccine or treatment for the virus, according to the center.
From 2006 to 2013, the center documented an average of 28 people per year from the U.S. who tested positive for the virus. Each case was found in someone who had traveled abroad, specifically to Asia. When stacked up against the nearly 2,500 cases of West Nile, another mosquito-borne virus reported nationally by the CDC in 2013, public concern generated by recent press accounts may seem like an overreaction.
Center statistics also showed that Florida has been the most affected by chikungunya, reporting 34 travel-related cases this year. This may be alarming for some, considering the center reported only seven cases of West Nile virus in Florida in 2013.
Kristen Nordlund, a communications specialist for the center, explained the specifics of the virus in an email statement.
“Most people infected with chikungunya virus will develop some symptoms, which usually begin three to seven days after being bitten by an infected mosquito,” she wrote. “Some people will have joint pain that lasts for months, but the disease does not often result in death.” Norlund then described the origin of the virus and methods to prevent possible contraction. For many, this is simple mosquito protocol.The virus is spread by both the Yellow Fever Mosquito and Tiger Mosquito, according to Norlund.
“These mosquitoes bite mostly during the daytime so the best way to prevent the disease is to reduce your exposure to mosquitoes.”
She then warned against the danger posed by standing water, which can stagnate and provide a breeding ground for the mosquitoes that transmit viruses.
The center recommends that if you travel, to monitor conditions in your country of destination and take proper precautions to protect against mosquito bites while visiting.
Jones said the state has a web page available that lists preventative measures you can take this holiday weekend, but in the end, it goes back to the basics.
“If you are suspecting it, seek a doctor,” he said. “If you do have a probable case, then do your best not to infect other mosquitoes and take protection and prevention to the next level for a couple of weeks.”
Staff Writer Ryan Phillips: 256-235-3553. On Twitter @rphillips_Star.