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Mosquito-born Chikungunya Virus Shows up in the U.S.

Update Date: Jun 13, 2014 10:57 AM EDT

According to health officials, a mosquito-borne illness caused by the chikungunya virus might be on the rise within the United States. Officials believe the virus entered the nation after travelers got infected on their trips to the Caribbean where the virus is currently widespread. So far, cases have been confirmed in Florida, North Carolina, Nebraska and Indiana. Tennessee is in the midst of testing suspected cases.

"This is often a terribly painful and uncomfortable illness, with no vaccine to prevent it and no specific treatment for those infected," the Tennessee health commissioner Dr. John Dreyzehner said in a statement. "Recovery can be prolonged, so prevention is the only good option."

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed 25 cases within Florida state alone, making up the majority of the cases found in the U.S. So far, all of the cases were caused by contact with infected mosquitoes from the Caribbean. None of the patients were infected by local mosquitoes within the states.

"It will be more difficult for the virus to establish itself here," said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, TN, reported by the New York Daily News.

The chikungunya virus causes symptoms such as joint pain, pounding headaches and high fevers, which typically show up from three to seven days after a bite. The symptoms typically go away within a week. Fevers that develop can be treated with medications. However, the virus is not considered to be deadly.

"It is imperative individuals experiencing symptoms of chikungunya virus minimize their exposure to mosquitoes to reduce risk of local transmission," said Abelardo Moncayo, director of the Tennessee Department of Health's Vector-Borne Diseases program according to the New York Daily News. "A mosquito can pick up the virus from an infected human and infect others."

The CDC is now monitoring the chikungunya virus in Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, Virginia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Health officials remind people to use insect repellants and to wear long clothing whenever possible to avoid mosquito bites.

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