FORSYTH COUNTY, N.C. – The Forsyth County Department of Public Health has confirmed the county's first case of Chikungunya -- a mosquito-borne virus not native to the U.S.
It is the first known case in the Triad, but there have been other reported cases in Florida, Tennessee and Virginia, according to the department.
The Forsyth County Health Department said Thursday morning the person who contracted the virus had recently traveled to the Caribbean. Medical director Chris Ohl, M.D., said due to patient privacy, he could not disclose to which Caribbean country or territory the patient had traveled. He also could not reveal the person's age or gender.
The health department said the person was not hospitalized but is not likely to be a risk to others, since he or she stayed indoors and used mosquito repellent during the two-week period in which the virus can stay in the bloodstream.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Chikungunya is a virus transmitted to people by mosquitoes. The most common symptoms are fever and severe joint pain. Other symptoms are headache, muscle pain, joint swelling or rash.
Ohl said the the virus is rarely deadly, and North Carolinians have little to no risk of actually contracting the virus--at least not yet.
"It's very important to understand there has been no transmission in the United States yet of this virus. It is not contagious from human to human. The only way to get it is from a mosquito bite," he said.
But, Ohl said the concern is that a mosquito in the U.S. could bite an infected person and re-transmit the disease by biting someone else. Animals are immune, according to a North Carolina DHHS veterinarian. But, the mosquito bites have infected 136,000 people in the Caribbean since last December.
Ohl said, "The Caribbean's our back door. We have a lot of people who like to go on vacation or do mission trips in the Caribbean, and those travelers are at risk of getting a mosquito bite when they travel."
Ohl said people can protect themselves from the virus by protecting themselves against mosquito bites. They are encouraged to wear insect repellent and loose, long-sleeved shirts and pants. Homeowners should drain standing water in containers around their houses at least once a week.
Forsyth Co. environmental health technician Ryan Harrison explained the type of mosquitoes that transmit the virus are Asian Tiger mosquitoes, which breed only in containers of water.
Ohl encouraged overall precaution, as the summertime increases the likelihood of travel. "We think the risk of it (Chikungunya) getting into our population is low, but it's not zero, so we'd like to reduce that risk as much as we can," he said.
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