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What you need to know about the chikungunya virus

Aedes mosquitoes transmit chikungunya virus to people
Aedes mosquitoes transmit chikungunya virus to people

On July 17, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the first known case of the chikungunya virus that was seemingly acquired within the United States. From 2006 to 2013, an average of 28 people per year in the U.S. have contracted the disease; however, until now, all of these individuals had traveled from or to the U.S. from another country, usually in Asia. In 2014, the CDC began to identify instances of the disease in travelers coming from the Caribbean.

The chikungunya virus is transmitted through mosquito bites. The mosquitoes, which are the type that also transmit the dengue virus and mostly bite in the daytime, become infected when they bite a person with the chikungunya virus. They then pass it on to other people through bites.

Symptoms usually appear within 3-7 days days of being bitten by an infected mosquito. The individual usually experiences fever and joint pain, and may also exhibit signs of a headache, rash, muscle pain, or joint swelling. Although the virus is typically not fatal, the symptoms can be severe and debilitating. Most people start to feel better within a week.

People at risk for more severe disease include newborns, older adults (65 years and older), and people who have medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, or high blood pressure.

If you have traveled to or from another country recently, and are experiencing the symptoms outlined above, see your doctor. He or she might be able to diagnose the disease through a blood test. While there is no medicine to treat the disease, you can treat the symptoms by getting plenty of rest, staying hydrated, and taking anti-inflammatory medications to relieve any fever or pain.

To read how you can protect yourself from mosquito bites, see the CDC's guidance here.

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