Chikungunya Virus, An ‘Epidemic’ In Puerto Rico, Reaches Florida

Chikungunya, a virus that has been ravaging the Caribbean (including the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands), has reached Florida, Fox News is reporting.

As of this post, 243 cases of Chikungunya infection have been reported in 31 states. However, all of those cases involve people who contracted the disease elsewhere and returned to the U.S. with the virus. The Florida outbreak, according to Fox News Latino, represents the first known cases of people in the U.S. acquiring the disease locally. The disease spreads from one person to another via a mosquito biting an infected person and picking up the virus, then biting an uninfected person.

Related: Dreaded Chikungunya Virus Detected In Cuba: Is The U.S. At Risk? (Inquisitr)

The disease first appeared in the Americas in late 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). In Puerto Rico, where over 200 cases of the disease have been confirmed, it’s considered an epidemic. The disease is rarely fatal, but can be quite painful, causing fever, swelling, rash, and joint pain that can last for weeks, or sometimes years. There is no vaccine and no specific treatment.

The Chikungunya virus’ impact in the U.S. is likely to be far less severe than it has been in the Caribbean. Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert with Vanderbilt University, tells CNN:

“We live in a largely air-conditioned environment, and we have a lot of screening (window screens, porch screens). So we can separate the humans from the mosquito population, but we cannot be completely be isolated.”

Indeed, controlling the spread of the virus via controlling exposure to the mosquitoes that carry it seems to be the best course of action. Steve Smith, of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control Board, tells CNN:

“It was just a matter of when. We are prepared in the Keys and have been prepared for some time to deal with Chikungunya.”

Unfortunately, the two species of mosquito that carry the virus don’t respond to traditional mosquito control methods. Most species of mosquito are active at dusk and during the evening, meaning that public health officials can spray chemical pesticides at a time when the impact on humans is likely to be minimal. The species of mosquito that carry Chikungunya, however, are most active during the day, according to CNN. The best way to prevent the spread of the virus is to wear long sleeves and use plenty of chemical repellent.

[Image source: University of Minnesota]