Unlike West Nile Virus, when 20 percent of people who are bitten by an infected mosquito will develop symptoms, 90 percent of people bitten bya mosquito carrying chikunguyna get the virus.
Also, a different type of mosquito carries chikunguyna -- the Asian Tiger mosquito -- and it feeds during the day.
Dr. Kristy Murray said, "We've been educating people for so long about avoiding those nighttime mosquitos and now you need to just go all day and avoid mosquito bites."
Chikungunya is not transmitted from direct person to person contact, but a person with the disease can be the source of the virus for mosquitoes that can then transmit the virus to others through a bite. To prevent the spread of the disease, people with chikungunya illness should be especially careful to avoid exposure to mosquitoes during the first week of illness.
Infections are rarely fatal but can cause severe joint pain, high fever, head and muscle aches, joint swelling and rash. Symptoms usually begin three to seven days after being bitten by a mosquito. There is no vaccine or treatment for the virus. Most people feel better within a week, though some people may develop longer-term joint pain.
Dr. Murray said, "That joint pain could last for weeks or even months and even into years, really. It's actually quite debilitating."
While the disease is not present in Harris County, local officials test for mosquito-borne disease activity and spray in those areas where viruses have been detected. Check the map to see what's been found in your zip code.
DSHS encourages people to protect themselves from mosquito bites at home and while traveling. The Aedes mosquitoes that transmit chikungunya are active and bite during the day. Precautions include:
- Use an approved insect repellent every time you go outside, and follow label instructions.
- Drain standing water where mosquitoes can breed.
- Wear long sleeves and pants when outside.
- Use air conditioning or make sure doors and windows are screened to keep mosquitoes outside.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with recent outbreaks in the Caribbean and the Pacific, the number of chikungunya cases among travelers visiting or returning to the United States from affected areas will likely increase. Cases have occurred in Africa, Southern Europe, Southeast Asia, and islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
Because the symptoms are similar, DSHS encourages physicians to consider both chikungunya and dengue infection in patients with acute onset of fever and joint pain and who have recently visited areas where at least one of the viruses is present.