FRIDAY, June 20, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Health officials are
reporting a rise in U.S. cases of the mosquito-borne chikungunya
virus, though they were quick to note that all of these infections
have so far originated outside the United States.
"Thankfully, we have not seen any cases in the United States yet
where the person got the disease here," said Dr. Erin Staples, a
medical epidemiologist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention's National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious
However, the virus is now widespread in the Caribbean and it's
likely only a matter of time before it is found in mosquitoes in
the United States, possibly as early as this summer, according to
Chikungunya -- which triggers a very painful but seldom fatal
illness -- is already common in central and southern Africa,
southern Asia and has recently spread to 17 countries in the
Caribbean, the CDC noted. Cases have also been reported in Italy
The virus has been reported as close to the U.S. mainland as
Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Staples noted. "So there
is transmission of the virus between people and mosquitoes going on
right now in both those locations," she said.
And, people traveling to those locales are definitely bringing
the virus home.
"As of this week, we have seen a fair number of travel-related
cases," said Staples. As of June 17, there have been 57 cases of
travel-related chikungunya reported to the CDC this year. But,
doctors don't have to notify the CDC of suspected chikungunya
infections, so that number may be underestimated.
"We do anticipate that there could be local transmission of the
virus, particularly now as we are coming into summer when
mosquitoes are active," said Staples. She said that few people in
the United States have been exposed to chikungunya, "so no one is
really immune. We anticipate that there could be some local
transmission of the virus, so we could have small outbreaks."
Chikungunya (pronounced chick-en-gun-ye) virus causes high
fevers, joint pain and swelling, headaches and a rash. For some
people, the pain can last even after other symptoms disappear,
Staples said. Chikungunya can be fatal, though that's quite rare,
The pain from the virus can be debilitating. Pediatrician Dr.
Jennifer Halverson was infected with chikungunya during a trip to
Haiti where she was providing charitable care in a local hospital,
she reported to the Minnesota
She said she was immobilized by the pain and bedridden for a
week. "I've broken a bone. I've had other medical issues. I don't
think I've ever been in so much pain," Halverson told the
Those most at risk of a severe infection include newborns,
adults 65 and older, and people with chronic medical conditions,
such as high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease, according
The virus is spread to people by certain types of mosquitoes
that pick up the virus by biting an infected person, Staples
explained. Someone infected outside the United States who brings
the virus back will likely, at some point, be bitten by a mosquito
and then the virus will be passed on to the next person that
The mosquitoes that carry the chikungunya virus are active
during the day, unlike those that carry West Nile virus, which are
most active from evening to dawn. "These mosquitoes are
predominately in the South and southeastern United States, and they
have been found in pockets in the western United States," Staples
No treatment or cure exists for the chikungunya virus. Doctors
can treat individual symptoms, but then can only wait for the
illness to pass. The infection generally runs its course in about a
Like other mosquitoes, those that carry chikungunya breed in
standing water, Staples said. So, it's a good idea to get rid of
any sources of standing water around your home, she advised.
People should also use insect repellant when they go outdoors.
And, wear pants and long sleeves outside whenever possible. Staples
also recommended making sure window screens are in good condition
to keep mosquitoes out of the house.
Dr. Marc Siegel, an associate professor of medicine at NYU
Langone Medical Center in New York City, said there are a "bunch of
reasons not to be concerned about chikungunya here. It has the
potential to cause small outbreaks, but it is likely to be limited,
and I don't expect it to be a major problem."
For more about the chikungunya virus, visit the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.