07/25/2014 02:48 pm ET Updated Jul 25, 2014

9 Must-Know Facts About The Chikungunya Virus


By Kitty Appel, HuffPost Healthy Living

Cases of chikungunya virus seen in the United States are atypically high this year because of an outbreak of the virus in the Caribbean currently underway. Since the beginning of 2014, there have been 497 reported cases of chikungunya virus in the U.S. -- much higher than the average 28 infections in a given year.

The mosquito-borne virus causes extreme joint pain, in addition to fever and headache, but is usually not deadly. While most cases of chikungunya in the U.S. are contracted abroad, it's still important to know how to best protect yourself against it, even if you have no plans to leave the country.

There have been recent reports of chikungunya in the U.S.
Recent cases reported in Florida included two locally acquired cases among patients who had not left the country. There have been 10 cases reported throughout North Carolina, just this week and three cases recently reported on Long Island, NY, though both the North Carolina and New York patients acquired the disease from mosquitoes they encountered in other countries.

It's transmitted via one particular species of mosquito.
Humans contract the virus through mosquito bites, according to the World Health Organization. The Aedes species of mosquito, particularly Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, transmits the virus. It's not spread human to human, though, in rare cases, it can be spread from mother to newborn; it can also theoretically be spread via blood transfusion, though this has never happened before, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Onset of symptoms usually starts three to seven days after the mosquito bite.
The symptoms can include headache, joint swelling, rash and muscle pain, with fever and joint pain being the most common symptoms, according to the CDC. Symptoms usually only last two to three days.

The virus lasts five to seven days in most humans.
During this time period, mosquitoes who bite an infected person can then become infected with the virus, according to the World Health Organization.

There is no treatment or cure.
The best thing patients can do is rest, drink fluids and take pain-relieving and fever-reducing medicine like ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

Most patients fully recover.
The disease does not usually kill. Most people will feel better within a week, though some are never relieved of the debilitating joint pain.

It can be misdiagnosed as dengue.
That's because the two illnesses have some similar symptoms.

Most outbreaks occur in Africa and Asia, though they can happen anywhere.
Recent outbreaks include one in 2005-2006 in the Réunion and Mauritius islands in the Indian Ocean (more than 272,000 people were infected), one in India in 2006 (more than 1,500,000 cases reported), and one in 2007 in a village in Italy (197 cases were reported), according to the WHO.

However, the most recent outbreak in the Caribbean began in December 2013; most countries in the region have reported cases of the virus, including the British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Saint Lucia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos, and Aruba. In total, there have been 436,586 suspected cases of chikungunya throughout the Caribbean and the Americas.

The best way to protect yourself from chikungunya is to protect yourself against mosquitoes.
Take measures such as wearing long sleeves to protect your skin from bites and using insect repellent. And make sure to call a medical professional if you develop any symptoms consistent with chikungunya.