(RxWiki News) Americans have grown more accustomed to hearing about West Nile virus, but now it seems like a new mosquito-borne illness might be approaching US shores and making news.
This week health officials reported two new cases of chikungunya virus in the US Virgin Islands, one of which was acquired locally.
Health officials stressed the importance of preventing mosquito bites, both at home and when traveling.
"Fix holes on screen doors and windows to keep insects out of the home."
Chikungunya virus is spread to people through mosquito bites. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), common symptoms include fever, joint and muscle pain, headache and rash. The virus has led to outbreaks in many parts of the world, including Africa and Asia, but was reported in the Americas for the first time in late 2013, when it was discovered in the Caribbean islands, said CDC.
Now, a new locally-acquired case has been reported in a US territory.
According to the US Virgin Islands Department of Health, the two new cases of chikungunya were confirmed on the islands on June 10. One case was found to be "imported," meaning the case was discovered in a person who had recently traveled outside of the territory and was likely infected when abroad. This was the second imported case discovered in the Virgin Islands since May 12.
The other new case was determined to be locally acquired, meaning the patient was infected with chikungunya while in the Virgin Islands.
In the continental US, all reported cases to date have been imported cases. However, as transmission increases in the Caribbean, locally acquired infections in the continental US may not be far away.
"Chikungunya virus likely will continue to spread to new areas in the Americas (North America, Central America, and South America) through infected people and mosquitoes," reported CDC.
"Since chikungunya virus is new to the Americas, most people in the region are not immune," explained CDC. "This means they can be infected and spread the virus to other mosquitoes."
In a news release, Darice Plaskett, Health Commissioner of the US Virgin Islands Department of Health, said that chikungunya's appearance in the territory did not come as a surprise.
“With the increasing number of confirmed cases reported in the Caribbean, the Department of Health has been proactively preparing for the introduction of the chikungunya virus into the territory," said Plaskett, who reported the Department of Health is collaborating with a number of groups to increase awareness and limit chikungunya's spread, including the CDC, local health resources and the Virgin Islands Department of Tourism.
The Virgin Islands Department of Health and CDC both stressed the importance of preventing mosquito bites to prevent chikungunya, as well as other mosquito-borne illnesses like dengue and West Nile.
Both organizations recommended steps like using insect repellent, wearing long sleeves and long pants, and emptying standing water from around businesses and homes.