SARASOTA, Fla. -- Chikungunya fever, an infection caused by the chikungunya virus, is now reported in travelers returning to the Suncoast. But the Health Department says they are taking steps to help stop the spread of the disease.
There is currently no vaccine to prevent chikungunya fever, and no treatment for the mosquito-borne illness that originated in Africa and spread to India and the Carribbean.
And, the virus is now on the move.
The first reported case in Sarasota County was reported Wednesday. “The person did travel to the Dominican Republic to visit their family, and during those travels they were bit by a mosquito. That's how they contracted the illness, then returned home to Sarasota,” says Michael Drennon of the Sarasota Department of Health.
Now another case was reported Thursday in Manatee County.
But how many others are infected? “We just don't know, but we do know that people travel a lot to the Carribbean, so that being said, we know the possibilities exist we will identify another one.”
There's only two reported cases on the Suncoast, says infectious disease specialist Dr. Vilma Vega. “But there's 48 cases in Florida that have been reported. And all of them have been from outside of the United States. They've acquired it.”
These are signs you may be infected: “Acute fevers, chills, joint pains, headaches…symptoms that are very similar to other viruses.”
This is when you need to talk to your physician, says Dr. Vega. “They have to make sure that they don’t have things like chikungunya or dengue, which can be acquired in these places.”
While chikungunya and dengue fever are both mosquito-borne and transmitted by two species of mosquitos in Florida, dengue is more acute with more severe symptoms. “Chikungunya lasts a lot longer. It even lasts from weeks to months to years.”
Whether you are at home or abroad, there are measures you can take to protect yourself, says Drennon. Emptying standing water is one, long pants another. “The biggest thing is wearing that mosquito repellant. And then, I know it's hot, but wearing long sleeved clothing. Those are the steps that you can take that are going to keep you from getting bit.”
The person infected with the virus from Sarasota was not hospitalized, and to be clear, did not acquire the disease in Sarasora County, Florida, or the U.S.