A new virus transmitted by mosquitoes has been making headlines and getting the attention of public health and mosquito-control professionals. This virus is called chikungunya — pronounced chik-un-GUN-ya — and is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito. This virus has nothing to do with chickens. The name chikungunya, also called CHIKV, is derived from a local language of Tanzania meaning “that which bends up” or “stooped walk” because of the incapacitating arthritic symptoms caused by the disease. The most common symptoms of chikungunya include fever, headache, severe muscle and joint pain, joint swelling, or rash. Because patients are often contorted with pain, they can spend weeks in bed while the virus passes through their system. There’s no vaccine against chikungunya, and the only treatment is rest and pain relief. Chikungunya can only be transmitted through the bite of a mosquito. The virus grows in human blood, and when a mosquito bites an infected person, it can spread it to others. The two mosquito species responsible for the spread of chikungunya are Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, which are commonly found in Florida. These two mosquitoes are container breeders, and the larvae are often growing in various water-holding containers found in your yard. Chikungunya was discovered some 60 years ago in Africa. Since then, the virus was isolated from numerous countries in Central and Southern Africa, Asia and Europe. It is becoming much more concerning as chikungunya continues to encroach on the borders of the U.S.
About six months ago, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a travel warning for people visiting islands in the Caribbean because chikungunya virus had been detected on St. Martin. This was the first time it had been detected in the Americas, where transmission occurred with patients with no history of travel outside of their area. Since then, local transmission has been identified in 19 countries or territories in the Caribbean or South America. As the virus continues to jump across the Caribbean islands, the number of human cases detected has dramatically increased. According to the Pan American Health Organization, there had been 4,600 confirmed and 166,000 suspected cases in the Caribbean as of mid-June, and nearly 30,000 new cases are being reported each week. As the pace of the virus increases, it also is spreading quickly in the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Cuba recently confirmed six cases of chikungunya virus from residents who traveled to these islands. With Florida only 90 miles from Cuba, does this mean the Sunshine State will have locally transmitted cases of chikungunya this summer? Time will tell, but it appears inevitable. Florida public health officials have been monitoring for possible imported cases. As of June 8, the Florida Department of Health reported the number of imported cases stood at 18. As of June 14, the number of reported cases had more than doubled, with 42. So far, all of the confirmed and suspected cases have involved people who have traveled to the Caribbean. There is, however, potential for the virus to take hold in the U.S. Each new imported case comes with the threat that local mosquitoes could feed off the victim before the illness is identified. As the season shifts into high gear, the staff at Pasco County Mosquito Control District will work diligently with our arsenal of trucks and helicopters rigged with spraying equipment to keep the mosquitoes at bay. We encourage all residents to take a good look around their property and remove anything that could potentially hold water, since it will very likely produce mosquitoes if left in place. Examples of common containers that harbor mosquitoes are buckets, tires and flower pots, but even a small container such as a bottle cap or potato chip bag can hold enough water to breed mosquitoes. Additionally, residents can protect themselves by wearing insect repellent and loose, long-sleeved shirts and pants. Visit our website at www.pascomosquito.org for information. Dennis Moore is the director of the Pasco County Mosquito Control District.