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Chikungunya: Questions and Answers

What to Know About the Mosquito-Borne Virus That Has Emerged in the Caribbean

Where has chikungunya been found?

In the past decades, outbreaks have occurred in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

The virus was found for the first time in the Americas on Caribbean islands in late 2013. More than 20 Caribbean and South American countries and territories have reported outbreaks, according to the CDC.

As of July 17, 243 travel-associated cases, in people returning from the Caribbean or Asia, have been reported in 31 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands, according to the CDC. 

On July 17, the CDC reported the first locally transmitted case of chikungunya in Florida, in a male who hadn't traveled outside the U.S. 

“CDC officials believe chikungunya will behave like dengue virus in the United States, where imported cases have resulted in sporadic local transmission but have not caused widespread outbreaks,” the agency said in a statement.

Puerto Rico has 121 locally transmitted cases, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have two.

What are the symptoms?

"Usually fever, rash, muscle aches, and joint pain," Adalja says.

Headache and joint swelling can also happen.  

"When a person first becomes sick, they will think they have a flu-like illness," Murray says.

Symptoms first appear about 4 to 7 days after the bite, according to the World Health Organization.

A high percentage of those infected become sick, Murray says. She estimates that 90% of those bitten will develop symptoms.

What is the treatment?

No special treatment is available. Doctors treat the symptoms the best they can, Adalja says. Typically, fever-reducing medicines such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen are given.

How severe is it?

The disease is rarely fatal, according to the World Health Organization, although in older people, the disease can contribute to the cause of death.

As of July 11, 5,037 cases have been confirmed in the Caribbean with 21 deaths, according to the Pan American Health Organization.

"Most people will get better in about a week," Adalja says, although some will need to be hospitalized. A small number of people will have joint pain that lasts for months, he says.

Newborns exposed during delivery, people 65 and older, and people with medical conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease are particularly vulnerable to infection, the CDC says.

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