N.C. residents reminded to take precautions following first locally acquired cases of chikungunya virus in Florida
State health officials are urging North Carolinians to remain diligent in personal efforts to protect themselves from mosquito bites. The reminder comes on the heels of Thursday's announcement by Florida health officials that they have confirmed the state's first two locally acquired cases of the mosquito-borne virus known as chikungunya (chik-en-gun-ye). Sometimes referred to as CHIKV, the virus has been spreading throughout the Caribbean and Central and South America, and has now reached the continental United States.
"Until now, people in this country who have become sick with the virus were travelers who acquired the infection abroad," Acting State Health Director Robin Gary Cummings said. "The cases confirmed in Florida shows that the virus could eventually be transmitted in North Carolina as well."
So far this year, the nine cases that have been confirmed in North Carolina were people who recently traveled to the Caribbean. Chikungunya virus is transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito, and the Asian tiger mosquito that is commonly found in North Carolina could effectively transmit this virus. At this time, there have not been any cases of the disease known to have been acquired in North Carolina.
Dr. Cummings strongly encourages residents to take precautions against mosquito bites at home as well as when traveling to places that already have chikungunya and other mosquito-borne viruses.
"Perhaps the easiest and most effective thing to do around the home is to empty any containers that can hold water where mosquitoes breed," Dr. Cummings said. "When traveling to areas known to have mosquito-borne viruses, we recommend that people take personal precautions to prevent mosquito bites and to immediately consult a medical provider if they develop a fever in the two weeks after their return home."
Symptoms of chikungunya usually begin three to seven days after being bitten by an infected mosquito. Symptoms typically include the sudden onset of fever and severe, often disabling, joint pains in the hands and feet. Many patients feel better within a week; however, the joint pain may persist for months in some people. Newborns exposed during delivery, adults over 65 years and people with chronic medical conditions have a greater risk for a severe form of the disease.
To protect yourself and your family against mosquito bites in North Carolina and abroad:
- Wear light-colored long pants and long-sleeved shirts.
- Reduce time spent outdoors, particularly during early morning and early evening hours when mosquitoes are most active. However, you should exercise precautions against mosquito bites at all times.
- Apply EPA-approved mosquito repellents such as DEET, picardin, oil of lemon eucalyptus or IR3535 to exposed skin areas. Always follow guidelines when using mosquito repellent.
- Since mosquitoes may bite through thin clothing, spraying clothes with repellent containing permethrin or another EPA-registered repellent will give extra protection.
DHHS' Division of Public Health strongly recommends that all North Carolina residents take measures to decrease environmental conditions favorable to breeding for the species that could transmit this infection, the Asian tiger mosquito. This mosquito is an aggressive daytime biter, breeds in small water containers and does not travel long distances.
To reduce mosquito breeding areas around your home:
- Remove any containers that can hold water;
- Change the water in bird baths and pet bowls frequently and repair leaky outdoor faucets;
- Cover rain barrels with tight-fitting screens or lids;
- Keep gutters clean and in good repair; and
- Use screened windows and doors and make sure screens are not torn and fit tightly.
To learn more about how to prevent mosquito bites, click here.
Click here for frequently asked questions on chikungunya.
To learn more about chikungunya virus, click here.
To learn more about chikungunya and its introduction into the Americas, click here.