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Chikungunya Virus May Be Headed for U.S.

So far, cases of the painful illness have been imported, but that may not last for long, experts say


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 Star Tribune.

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 newspaper.

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 to Staples.

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 mosquito bites.

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 said.

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 week.

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."

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