Alachua County gets first report of chikungunya virus


Published: Thursday, July 17, 2014 at 1:27 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, July 17, 2014 at 5:18 p.m.

Alachua County has its first reported case of chikungunya as the number of travel-related incidents of the mosquito-borne virus continues to grow in Florida.

Alachua County Health Department Administrator Paul Myers said a county resident was infected while traveling in the Caribbean and is now recovering. Myers declined to give the individual's age or gender.

Myers said the individual was isolated at home for the first few days after showing symptoms of chikungunya. Because of that, he said, health officials are confident that the virus will not spread via mosquitoes.

Symptoms of chikungunya include severe joint pain, high fever, rash, backache and sometimes nausea. They usually appear three to seven days after a bite. The virus is rarely fatal, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but prolonged joint pain, arthritis, loss of energy or depression can last weeks to years. The Florida Department of Health's weekly report on mosquito activity showed Florida has now had 81 confirmed cases of chikungunya this year, the most of any state. Thirty-three of those cases were reported in the last three weeks.

The virus has now been reported in two dozen Florida counties. Broward has had the most cases with 20.

Meantime, for the first time on Thursday, health officials in South Florida say two people bitten by mosquitoes in Florida have become infected with the virus.

Prior to Thursday, all cases of the virus were contracted during travel to the Caribbean.

The Department of Health said that in the locally acquired cases, a person who was infected in the Caribbean was bitten by a mosquito in Florida and that mosquito in turn bit someone in the state. The two cases are in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.

Sixty-one cases of chikungunya have been linked to travel in Haiti.

While mosquito-borne illnesses such as Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) and the West Nile virus are spread when a mosquito first bites a bird carrying the virus and then a human, people — not birds — are the "reservoir" or host for chikungunya. So the virus spreads when a mosquito first bites an infected person and then another person.

Two species of mosquito transmit the virus. One of them, the Aedes albopictus, or Asian tiger mosquito, is the most common backyard mosquito in this area of the state and often feeds during the day, not the dawn or dusk times typically associated with mosquito activity.

Separate from chikungunya, Alachua County is under an ongoing mosquito-borne illness advisory because two horses tested positive for EEE. Two horses is the threshold that triggers issuing an advisory. One of those horses had to be euthanized. Two sentinel chickens have also tested positive.

Anthony Dennis, the Alachua County Health Department's director of environmental health, has said the advisory means residents should take increased precautions and protections.

The department recommends residents drain standing water from garbage cans, house gutters, pool covers, coolers, toys, flower pots and other outdoor containers that make for prime mosquito-breeding conditions. Old tires, drums, bottles, cans, pots and pans, and broken appliances should be drained of standing water or, preferably, discarded.

To protect against bites, the department recommends that residents wear shoes, socks, long pants and long sleeves and use an insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus or IR3535.

Owners should also have their horses vaccinated for EEE.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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