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Public health officials caution against chikungunya

Abroad mosquito-borne illness present in Georgia

ALBANY — With the presence of chikungunya now evident in Georgia, people in Southwest Georgia have been given another reason to take measures to protect themselves from mosquito bites.

Officials with the Georgia Department of Public Health reported last month that the state’s first human case had been confirmed after a patient was infected during a recent trip to a Caribbean nation. Travelers who go to islands in the Caribbean are at risk of getting chikungunya, as well as those who go to Africa, Asia and islands in the Indian Ocean and Western Pacific are at risk, as the virus is present in many of these areas, public health officials say.

The virus spreads through mosquito bites. It is not spread through human to human contact.

The most common symptoms of chikungunya are high fever and severe joint pain, especially in the hands and feet. Other symptoms may include headache, muscle pain, joint swelling or rash. Symptoms usually begin three to seven days after being bitten by an infected mosquito, with most patients feeling better within a week. Joint pain, however, can persist for months, officials say.

To date, there are at least five confirmed cases in Georgia, none of which are in Southwest Georgia, said Dr. Jacqueline Grant, director of the Southwest Public Health District, but the kind of mosquitoes that carry chikungunya are present in the region.

“At risk are infants, older adults and those with underlying medical conditions,” Grant said. “Those people will want to consider not traveling to endemic areas.

“There is no cause for alarm right now. There have been small cases; all have been travel related.”

Chikungunya disease does not often result in death, but the symptoms can be severe and disabling. All U.S. patients infected with chikungunya have travel histories in areas where chikungunya is circulating. Public health officials say anyone who has symptoms of chikungunya following travel should seek medical attention and make their health care provider aware of any travel history outside of the country.

There is no known treatment, except for supportive therapy.

“It is extremely important that patients who are infected with chikungunya virus keep guard against additional mosquito bites,” said Cherie Drenzek, state epidemiologist for DPH. “During the first week or so of infection, chikungunya virus can be passed from an infected person to another mosquito through mosquito bites. An infected mosquito can then transmit the virus to other people, though this has not yet happened in the U.S.”

In Georgia, there are commonly other mosquito-borne diseases like West Nile virus (WNV) or equine encephalitis – serving as reminders for people to protect themselves from all mosquito-borne diseases by observing what state public health officials refer to as the “Five D’s of Prevention,” which are:

— Dusk/Day/Dawn. Mosquitoes carrying WNV usually bite at dusk and dawn, so avoid or limit outdoor activity at these times. Mosquitoes carrying chikungunya virus bite during the day.

— Dress. Wear loose-fitting, long-sleeved shirts and pants to reduce the amount of exposed skin.

— DEET. Cover exposed skin with an insect repellent containing DEET.

— Drain. Empty any containers holding standing water because they can be excellent breeding grounds for virus-carrying mosquitoes.

— Doors. Make sure doors and windows are in good repair and fit tightly, and fix torn or damaged screens to keep mosquitoes outside.