HEALTH

Dominican Republic sees nearly 500,000 people sick with chikungunya virus

FILE - This 2006 file photo made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a female Aedes aegypti mosquito acquiring a blood meal from a human host at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. A mosquito-borne virus appears to be spreading quickly in the Caribbean just weeks after epidemiologists first found local transmission occurring in St. Martin. The virus then spread to neighboring Dutch St. Maarten, and the U.S. CDC says new cases have also been confirmed in the French Caribbean islands of Martinique, Guadeloupe and St. Barthelemy. The British Virgin Islands reported three cases Monday, Jan. 13, 2014. (AP Photo/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, James Gathany, File)

FILE - This 2006 file photo made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a female Aedes aegypti mosquito acquiring a blood meal from a human host at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. A mosquito-borne virus appears to be spreading quickly in the Caribbean just weeks after epidemiologists first found local transmission occurring in St. Martin. The virus then spread to neighboring Dutch St. Maarten, and the U.S. CDC says new cases have also been confirmed in the French Caribbean islands of Martinique, Guadeloupe and St. Barthelemy. The British Virgin Islands reported three cases Monday, Jan. 13, 2014. (AP Photo/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, James Gathany, File)  (AP)

The mosquito-borne virus known as chikungunya has sickened nearly 500,000 people in the Dominican Republic, including 109 newborn babies, an official with the Caribbean country's health ministry said Friday.

The virus was transmitted to the newborns by their mothers, who had the illness when they gave birth, said Carmen Adames, who is coordinating the Health Ministry's response to the outbreak. None of the infants died, she said.

The Dominican Republic has been particularly hard hit by chikungunya since the first locally transmitted case was documented in the Western Hemisphere in late 2013. The first cases in the Dominican Republic appeared in March.

The Pan American Health Organization says there have at least 1 million cases throughout the hemisphere. Symptoms of the illness include high fever, severe headaches and joint pain that can last for months. There is no vaccine for the illness, which is rarely fatal, and no specific cure for it.

Health authorities have launched campaigns to encourage people to remove containers of standing water to control the two species of mosquitoes that transmit the virus.

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