Medical Advice: Avoiding mosquitoes and chikungunya virus

Medical Advice: Avoiding mosquitoes and chikungunya virus

I was first introduced to a disease known as chikungunya during my medical training.  Initially, I dismissed this foreign illness as something I would probably not see in my career.  Chikungunya was originally found in Asia, Africa, and the islands of the Indian Ocean and Western Pacific.  This changed on December 2013, when there was a report of a transmission for the first time in the western hemisphere in the island nations of the Caribbean.  Since this initial report, there has been an ongoing outbreak in many of the Caribbean Islands.  Travelers to these countries have carried the virus back to the United States.

Chikungunya (chik-en-gun-ye) is a virus transmitted by the Aedes mosquitoes.  The name originates from an African dialect, Makonde, meaning “that which bends.”  This gives you some idea of what those infected feel like.  Symptoms include fever, severe joint pain, headaches, muscle pain, and rash.  They generally begin three to seven days after being bitten by an infected mosquito.  Chikungunya is rarely fatal, but symptoms can persist for weeks and can be debilitating.  The disease is transmitted and has similar symptoms to another mosquito-borne disease known as dengue fever.  The health department recommends that providers test for both chikungunya and dengue in those with these symptoms.

As of July 7, 66 people have been diagnosed with chikungunya in Florida.  One of those infected resides in Polk County.  All of these individuals recently traveled to the Caribbean and acquired the disease while visiting.  Fortunately, there is no evidence of local transmission.

Avoiding mosquito bites is the key to preventing infection with chikungunya and other mosquito-borne diseases.  I recommend following the drain and cover method:

  • Drain any standing water around the house at least weekly to prevent them from multiplying.
  • Cover your skin, windows and doors
  • Use mosquito repellents on exposed skin containing DEET, picaridin, IR 3535, or oil of lemon eucalpyltus.
  • Wear long sleeved shirts and long pants
  • Wear permethrin-treated clothing to repel and kill mosquitoes
  • Ensure window/door screens are intact

When traveling to foreign regions, whether it is for tourism, family visits, mission trips, etc., please be sure to use these same prevention methods to help control the spread of mosquito-borne illnesses.

If you experience symptoms of chikungunya, consult with your health care provider, and protect yourself against further mosquito bites.  For more information, visit the Florida Department of Health’s chikungunya webpage at http://www.floridahealth.gov/diseases-and-conditions/mosquito-borne-diseases/chikungunya.html or the Centers for Disease Control site at http://www.cdc.gov/chikungunya/.

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by DR. ULYEE CHOE, Director of FDOH-Polk

About the Author: Dr. Ulyee Choe, an infectious disease physician, serves the community as director of the Florida Department of Health in Polk County (FDOH-Polk) and as a Polk County Medical Association member.  For more information about FDOH-Polk, visit www.mypolkhealth.net.