Minnesota doctor contracts emerging mosquito-borne illness while in Haiti


A Minnesota doctor who spends time working and living in Haiti has contracted a mosquito-borne illness that has health officials in the United States taking notice.

Jennifer Halverson, who works as an emergency room doctor with Children's Hospitals and Clinics Minnesota, woke up one morning in Haiti with terrible joint pain, one of the most common symptoms of the Chikungunya virus, KARE 11 reports.

"It was really difficult to move without severe pain. I've had a broken bone before; this was more severe than a broken bone. The Haitians are calling this the fever that breaks your bones – and for good reason," Halverson told KSTP.

Chikungunya, roughly pronounced "chicken-gun-ya," is a virus transmitted to people by mosquitoes. The most common symptoms include severe joint pain and a fever.

The virus doesn't often result in death, but symptoms can be very severe and disabling, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. There's no medicine to treat chikungunya and most patients feel better within a week, however in some cases joint pain can persist for months, the CDC says.

Halverson may be the first Minnesotan to contract the virus, which has rapidly spread in Africa, Asia and Europe. In late 2013, the virus was found for the first time in the Caribbean, the CDC says.

There have been over 170,000 cases of chikungunya out of the Caribbean, and as of June 10, a total of 39 chikungunya cases were reported from travelers returning to the U.S. from affected areas in the Caribbean or Asia, the CDC reports. The virus is not currently found in the United States, but health officials say there's a risk that it will be imported to the U.S. by infected travelers – if a mosquito bites a person with chikungunya, it could get infected and then pass it on to other people, who are then bitten by more mosquitoes.

However, a mosquito can only contract the virus from an infected person during the initial stage of the infection, which lasts roughly a week, the Star Tribune notes. The CDC says that once a person has been infected, they are likely to be protected from future infections.

It's not likely mosquitoes in Minnesota will be carrying the virus anytime soon. Doctors told KSTP that the two types of mosquitoes known to carry chikungunya don't live in Minnesota, but they do live in the southern U.S.

Because there's no vaccine to prevent chikungunya, health officials are urging travelers to protect themselves by preventing mosquito bites – use insect repellent, wear long sleeves and pants, and stay in places that have air conditioning or use window and door screens.

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