Mosquito-borne chikungunya hits home
By Dedrick D. Henry, Sr.
Along with the hot days and scattered showers here in South Florida; the rain brings pretty flowers and fresh mangoes we have to be aware of much more.
With the rain comes the usual aggravations: flooded streets, frizzy hair, wet shoes and socks. And plenty of mosquitoes.
Florida mosquitoes are on the prowl for red-blooded victims. Be aware they leave behind more than an itching welt: chikungunya. The virus is spread only by mosquitoes, which can bite an infected person and spread it to the next person on whom they feed.
There is no vaccine for chikungunya because the disease is viral. Medications only treat the symptoms, meaning infected people must allow the disease to run its course. Chikungunya is rarely fatal but takes its toll on a person and can last up to a month. Symptoms include headaches, rashes, vomiting, exhaustion and muscle and joint pain.
The virus emerged in Africa and over the past few years has spread across the Caribbean and has made its incursion into the continental United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there were 497 cases reported in the country as of this week.
Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Joel Peralta is believed to have contracted the virus while visiting the Dominican Republic over the All-Star break earlier this month. Peralta was placed on the 15-day disabled list because of the symptoms.
Two reported cases, both from South Florida, caught the illness in the United States. Neither had visited an infected area, and this is what worries health officials. Previously, all of the chikungunya cases in Florida were contracted outside of the United States, typically in the Caribbean.
South Florida is the gateway to the Caribbean. In 2013, more than seven million tourists came from countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to the Florida Department of Health and in 2011, 13.5 mill-ion cruise-ship passengers returned to ports in Florida, including Tampa, after making stops in the Caribbean.
The best option is to avoid being bitten by a mosquito and reduce breeding grounds around the house.
Eliminate places where standing water collects like bird baths, clogged gutters and plant pots; even some plants can trap water and be a place where mosquitoes breed. Don’t go outside at dusk and wear long sleeve shirts if you’re working in the yard. Proper mosquito repellent is a must.