First cases of chikungunya mosquito virus reported in US - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

First cases of chikungunya mosquito virus reported in US

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CDC file photos CDC file photos

MATT SEDENSKY and MIKE STOBBE

WEST PALM BEACH, Florida (AP) — Health officials are reporting that for the first time, U.S. mosquitoes are spreading a virus that has been tearing through the Caribbean.

Two people in Florida have domestically acquired chikungunya infections, officials said. In both cases, they said, a person infected with the virus after visiting the Caribbean was then bitten again by an uninfected mosquito in Florida, which then transmitted the illness further.

Federal officials noted it's an unfortunate milestone in the spread of a painful infectious disease that has raced across the Caribbean this year and is apparently now taking root in the United States.

"The arrival of chikungunya virus, first in the tropical Americas and now in the United States, underscores the risks posed by this and other exotic pathogens," said Roger Nasci of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a prepared statement.

Health officials urged residents to prevent mosquito bites but said there was no cause for alarm.

"There is no broad risk to the health of the general public," said Dr. Celeste Philip, a public health official with the Department of Health.

Chikungunya virus is rarely fatal. Infected people typically suffer fever, severe joint pain and swelling, muscle aches, headaches or rash. Patients usually recover in about a week, although some people suffer long-term joint pain. There is no vaccine and no specific treatment.

This virus is not spread person to person, but rather by the bite of certain mosquitoes. That's why health officials believe the virus is spreading here — the two cases had not recently left the country.

The infected Floridians were described as a 41-year-old woman in Miami-Dade County who began experiencing symptoms on June 10, and a 50-year-old man in Palm Beach County, who first noticed symptoms July 1.

Philip said both are doing well.

More than 230 chikungunya cases have been reported in Americans this year, but all the others were travelers believed to have been infected elsewhere.

Now that chikungunya is in the United States, CDC officials think it will behave like dengue virus, with imported cases causing occasional local transmissions but not widespread outbreaks.

Chikungunya was first identified in 1952 in Tanzania. It first appeared in the Americas late last year, on a Caribbean island. By July 11, more than 355,000 suspected and confirmed cases were being reported in the Americas.

Officials have been expecting it to land in the United States, noting that two types of mosquitoes that can carry the virus live here.

Earlier this week, the New England Journal of Medicine published an editorial on the looming chikungunya threat by two National institutes of Health infectious diseases experts — Dr. David Morens and Dr. Anthony Fauci.

They noted several chikungunya vaccines are being developed. But even if they prove effective, they would be years away from becoming available.

Mosquito control and avoidance are the best current options, they said.

Health officials in Puerto Rico on Thursday declared an epidemic of the mosquito-borne virus.

Health Secretary Ana Rius said that more than 200 cases had been confirmed on the island as of June 25 and that the majority of them were reported in the capital of San Juan and nearby areas.

The first case of chikungunya in the U.S. territory was reported in late May.

Also on Thursday, officials in Jamaica reported the island's first confirmed case. The chief medical officer, Dr. Kevin Harvey, said the virus was found in a person who had recently traveled to a country where there have been locally transmitted cases.

Across the Caribbean, the Pan American Health Organization recorded more than 354,000 suspected and confirmed cases as of July 11. The Western Hemisphere's first locally transmitted case was confirmed in December in the French Caribbean territory of St. Martin.

Chikungunya was first identified in Africa in 1953. It causes a high fever and severe pain in the joints, but is rarely fatal. There is no vaccine, and it mainly is treated with pain medication.

 

Stobbe reported from New York.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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