The Lowdown On Chikungunya, The Mosquito-Transmitted Virus You Should Know About

07/08/2014 02:55 pm ET
Claude Ponthieux via Getty Images

Beware of mosquitos. In some places, they could be carrying a very unpleasant virus with symptoms similar to dengue fever.

Chikungunya, which was previously limited to countries in the Eastern Hemisphere, has made headlines in the United States as cases of the virus have been reported in the country.

Reports of the virus, which is characterized by persistent joint pain, have cropped up in at least 27 states from Massachusetts to Texas, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Florida has the majority of the 129 reported cases in U.S. states and territories, including Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Health officials say the virus has been identified in travelers who recently visited the Caribbean. Chikungunya first appeared in the Americas in late 2013 on St. Martin. In December, the CDC issued a travel advisory for the island, warning tourists to be wary of local mosquitos that may carry the viral disease. Since the start of the new year, the virus island-hopped to other countries in the Caribbean, including the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

"Right now, we are worried about chikungunya in the U.S.," Roger Nasci of the CDC told NPR. "In fact, we expect that over the course of the next months or years -- as this virus spreads through the American tropics, and we see more travelers coming into the U.S -- we will see local transmission."

For those infected by a bite from a virus-carrying mosquito, symptoms such as fever and joint pain appear within three to seven days, according to the CDC. Other signs of illness -- a rash, headache or muscle aches -- may also appear and tend to last about a week.

However, patients may feel pain in their joints for months, or even years, after the initial infection. Chikungunya is fatal in only the most extreme cases. While there is no medication to treat chikungunya, patients can ease symptoms with pain-reliving drugs and by drinking fluids to ward off dehydration.

Those who believe they may have contracted the viral disease should contact their doctor.

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