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October 31, 2014

Health officials warn of new mosquito-borne virus

Infectious disease experts are warning of a new mosquito-borne illness expected to “explode” in the U.S., where mosquito species known to spread the disease are in abundance.

“It’s not a matter of if but when,” James Crowe, a pediatric infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, told USA Today.

The disease, known as chikungunya, causes severe joint and muscle pain, fever, headache, nausea, fatigue and rash, symptoms which can last weeks.

There is no vaccine to prevent or medicine to treat chikungunya virus infection, CDC says:

– Chikungunya virus is transmitted to people through mosquito bites. Mosquitoes become infected when they feed on a person already infected with the virus. Infected mosquitoes can then spread the virus to other people through bites.

– Chikungunya virus is most often spread to people by Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictusmosquitoes. These are the same mosquitoes that transmit dengue virus. They bite mostly during the daytime.

All but one American suspected of contracting the disease had recently traveled to the Caribbean. The first case on U.S. soil was confirmed in Puerto Rico late last month, USA Today reports.

There have so far been no locally transmitted cases in the U.S., but Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials fear the disease could take hold, much like West Nile did more than a decade ago, CNN reports.

“Thankfully, deaths from the disease are rare, but the pain can be severe and debilitating,” said Joseph Acierno, chief medical officer at Nebraska’s Department of Health and Human Services.

To prevent infection when traveling to countries with chikungunya virus, the CDC recommends:

– Using insect repellent.
– Wearing wear long sleeves and pants.
– staying in air conditioning or in places with window and door screens.