Warnings issued after mosquito-borne chikungunya virus confirmed in Georgia

The first human case of chikungunya has been confirmed in Georgia but Columbus Commissioner of Health Beverley Townsend said there is no reason to be alarmed.

Chikungunya is a virus that spreads through mosquito bites but the Georgia Department of Public Health said Thursday that the person was not bitten in this country but while in the Caribbean. It is travelers to the Caribbean , Africa, Asia and islands in the Indian Ocean and Western Pacific Ocean who are at risk

Townsend said people who take vacations or go on mission trips to those areas need to take proper precautions.

A mosquito can spread the disease by biting an infected person and then biting someone else.

“The most common symptoms of chikungunya are fever and severe joint pain, especially in the hands and feet,” warn state health officials. “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."

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta so far has confirmed 60 U.S. cases of chikungunya. All were travelers who had visited regions where the virus had spread.

In a news release the public health department quoted state epidemiologist Cherie Drenzek saying that keeping the virus from spreading is a priority:

“It is extremely important that patients who are infected with chikungunya virus keep guard against additional mosquito bites. 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."

Georgia mosquitoes are known to transmit other diseases such as West Nile virus and equine encephalitis.

Townsend said that while chikungunya is not a large concern here, "there are plenty of viruses such as West Nile that mosquitoes carry that are much more serious."

She said if you have been traveling to any of the places where chikungunya is common and experience any of the symptoms, you should see a doctor as soon as possible.

Mosquitoes carrying West Nile Virus usually bite at dusk and dawn. For prevention, people should wear loose-fitting long sleeves and pants to reduce the amount of skin exposed.

People should also cover exposed skin with an insect repellent containing DEET, which is the most effective against mosquito bites.

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