With many residents making plans for spring and summer vacations and mission trips to the Caribbean, the Knox County Health Department (KCHD) is encouraging travelers to be aware of chikungunya. Widespread in many Caribbean countries, chikungunya is a viral disease transmitted by mosquitoes. The insects contract the virus when they feed on an infected person and then spread the disease to others through bites. Though typically not fatal, the most common symptoms can be severe and include fever and joint pain.
“As with any international travel, people should be aware of the infectious diseases in the country or region through which they are traveling and should take appropriate precautions,” said KCHD Director Dr. Martha Buchanan. “Unfortunately, we do not have a vaccine for chikungunya, which is why awareness and preparation prior to travel is so important.”
What to know before you go:
- There is no vaccine to prevent chikungunya virus. Avoiding mosquito bites is the best protection.
- The mosquitoes that spread chikungunya bite mostly during the daytime.
- Mosquito repellants containing DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus or IR3535 are recommended. Pregnant women and those who are concerned about using repellent products on children should consult their health care provider for advice.
What to do while you’re there:
- Use mosquito repellants.
- Wear permethrin-treated clothing. Some permethrin products may also be used on shoes, bed nets and camping gear. Permethrin is not to be used directly on skin.
- Do not use perfume, cologne or other scented products when outside.
- Wear loose-fitting, long-sleeved shirts and long pants if possible.
- Empty standing water from outdoor containers.
- Use air conditioning and keep windows and doors closed or covered with screens.
What to be aware of when you get back:
- Symptoms usually begin three to seven days after being bitten by an infected mosquito.
- The most common symptoms include fever and joint pain. Other symptoms may include headache, muscle pain, joint swelling or rash.
- Anyone with symptoms of chikungunya virus should seek medical care and minimize his or her exposure to mosquitoes to reduce the risk of local transmission.
Most patients feel better within a week. In some, however, the joint pain may persist for months. Once a person has been infected, he or she is likely to be protected from future infections. People at increased risk for severe disease include newborns exposed during delivery, those 65 years of age and older, and people with medical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes or heart disease. Deaths are rare.
As of January 13, 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 2,344 confirmed cases of chikungunya in the U.S. Forty of these cases were in Tennessee, four of whom were Knox County residents. To date in the U.S., local transmission has only occurred in Florida. Chikungunya cases have also been reported in Africa, Southern Europe, Southeast Asia, and the islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.