Florida health officials issued a warning on Friday about chikungunya, a mosquito-borne virus that’s spreading across the Caribbean.
Three cases of the disease have been found in Florida, so far only in travelers, the Florida Department of Health said. But infected people can spread the disease when they are bitten by mosquitoes, and Florida is swarming with the right kind of mosquitoes to spread it.
“The Department has received three reports of imported cases of chikungunya fever to Florida from travelers who recently traveled to the Caribbean,” the health department said on its website. The three cases are in Miami-Dade, Broward and Hillsborough Counties.
Getty Images / New Orleans Mosquito and Termite Control Board via Getty Images file
An Asian Tiger mosquito feeds. The mosquitoes can carry chikungunya, a painful virus that's shown up in Florida travelrs three times so far.
Chikungunya is not usually deadly, but it can cause a very bad headache, joint pain, rash and fever. Its name in the Makonde language, spoken in Tanzania and Mozambique in Africa, means “that which bends up,” because patients are often contorted with pain.
Chikungunya has been spreading out of Africa into the Indian Ocean region, Asia and Europe in recent years. So far, more than 100 travelers have carried it into the U.S. but it hasn’t spread. However, West Nile virus, also carried by mosquitoes, came to the U.S. in 1999 and is now established across North America.
A study last year predicted that it’s possible a single, infected person could start an outbreak of chikungunya in New York once Asian tiger mosquitoes become more common in the city. They are already common across the southern half of the United States.
“Symptoms of chikungunya usually begin 3-7 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito and can include fever and severe joint pains often in hands and feet,” the health department said.
“With a large number of people traveling to and from the Caribbean in Florida we have been monitoring for possible imported cases,” said Dr. Carina Blackmore, deputy state epidemiologist. “We encourage all Floridians to practice the drain and cover method to minimize mosquito exposure.”
First published May 16 2014, 1:00 PM
Maggie Fox is senior health writer for NBCNews.com and TODAY.com, writing top news on health policy, medical treatments and disease.
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She's a former managing editor for healthcare and technology at National Journal and global health and science editor for Reuters based in Washington, D.C. and London.
She's reported for news agencies, radio, newspapers, magazines and television from across Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe covering news ranging from war to politics and, of course, health and science. Her reporting has taken Maggie to Lebanon, Syria and Libya; to China, South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines and Pakistan; to Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia and to Ireland and Northern Ireland and across the rest of Europe.
Maggie has won awards from the Society of Business Editors and Writers, the National Immunization Program, the Overseas Press Club and other organizations. She's done fellowships at Harvard Medical School, the National Institutes of Health and the University of Maryland.