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Warning to Floridians traveling to the Caribbean

Aedes aegypti mosquito
Aedes aegypti mosquito
CDC website

Warning to Floridians traveling to the Caribbean - stay away from mosquitoes!

This month a serious mosquito-born virus with a hard-to-pronounce name (click to hear) has infected at least 10 Floridians who traveled to Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Martininque.

Chikungunya virus (CHIKV) is transmitted by the same Aedes aegypti mosquito that causes dengue fever.

Within 3 to 7 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito, individuals develop fever and severe joint pains - especially in the hands and feet. There may be joint swelling as well as headache and rash. Although death from chikungunya is rare, joint pains may persist.

According to the CDC, although chikungunya virus outbreaks have occurred in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Indian and Pacific Oceans for years, it wasn’t until late 2013, that it was found for the first time on islands in the Caribbean.

The Haitain Health Ministry reported about 15,000 cases, while as many as 38,600 cases have been reported in the Dominican Republic. The rapidly spreading epidemic there prompted health officials to have a “National Day” of prevention and control of chikungunya Friday where thousands were mobilized to go door to door to advise families on how to eliminate mosquito breeding sites to prevent the spread of diseases like dengue and chikungunya.

So far, all of the infected Floridians had traveled to a chikungunya endemic country or an area experiencing an outbreak in the two weeks prior to developing symptoms. Counties reporting cases were: Hillsborough, Broward, Miami-Dade , Palm Beach, and Pasco.

Now that infected travelers are bringing the disease back to the US, there is a real risk that the virus will be imported here.

Chikungunya, like dengue, can be transmitted from an infected human to an Aedes mosquito which in turn can bite another human and pass along the disease. That’s why anyone who becomes infected with chikungunya should stay indoors so the virus doesn’t spread into the local mosquito population.

Currently there is no vaccine to prevent or medicine to treat chikungunya virus infection.

According to health officials, the best protection for travelers to countries with chikungunya virus is to prevent mosquito bites with the use of insect repellent to bare skin and clothing ((DEET,picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, andIR3535 are effective). Wear long sleeves and pants, shoes and socks. Stay in places with air conditioning or that use window and door screens.

Early detection of the symptoms and preventing mosquitoes from biting will help prevent the disease from spreading in the United States so if you feel ill after travel to the Caribbean, contact their physician immediately. Don’t forget to mention travel history.

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