United States officials are keeping watch for a new mosquito-borne virus that has been found in the Caribbean Islands and in Central and South America, especially after flooding rain inundated Florida last week.
Infection with chikungunya virus is rarely fatal but the joint pain seen with chikungunya can often be severe and debilitating, Sue Partridge of the Division of Vector-Borne Diseases in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The term chikungunya comes from a word in the Makonde language (spoken in southeast Tanzania and northern Mozambique in Africa) and means "that which bends up," because patients often are contorted in pain while suffering from the disease, she said.
"The symptoms resemble those of dengue, another serious mosquito-borne infection that is common throughout the Caribbean Islands," she said.
The CDC is concerned because the U.S. mainland does have Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes, both of which are able to spread the chikungunya virus.
A total of 109 laboratory-confirmed cases of chikungunya, all from travelers, were identified in the U.S. from 1995 through 2009, the CDC said.
"Many U.S. travelers go to countries where chikungunya virus is found. Local transmission of the virus in the Caribbean islands and other countries in the Americas may increase the number of infected travelers who visit or return to the United States," she said.
"It is important for public health experts and healthcare providers to think about, test for and report chikungunya virus infections in people with fever and joint pains who recently traveled to places where chikungunya virus is found."
The CDC is working with states to increase surveillance and laboratory capacity for the new virus, which was first detected in Africa in 1952, Partridge said.
Florida officials have issued reminders to residents to avoid mosquito bites after the severe flooding that hit the panhandle and other areas last week. More than 2 feet of rain fell in parts of the region.
Officials with the Florida Department of Health said that increased mosquito surveillance will be conducted in the flooded areas to see if the mosquitoes will impact recovery from the storms.
"If we determinate that the levels (of mosquitoes) really increased a lot and that people can't necessarily do their repairs and so forth that are needed after the big rainstorm that we had, it's likely we will do some spraying," Florida Department of Health Spokeswoman Carina Blackmore said.
There have been no reports of Dengue fever or West Nile virus this year in the panhandle region, Blackmore said, adding it is still early in the season for West Nile.
"It's too early to tell, but it's definitely an area where we've had West Nile in the past," she said.
Due to the flat terrain, it takes a while for standing floodwaters to drain, threatening to create a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
"Standing water may increase mosquito swarms throughout the panhandle," Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam said.
"We tell people to drain and cover," Blackmore said. "We do advise to drain standing water because that's where the mosquitoes breed. And we tell people to cover their skin with clothing, or to use mosquito repellent to not get bit by mosquitoes and to cover doors and windows with screens to not let mosquitoes into their home."
Over-the-counter anti-mosquito treatments to kill larva in standing water that can't be drained can be purchased, she said.