Alabama has had its first case of Chikungunya virus this year. Carried by mosquitoes, the disease is found in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Caribbean. Travelers have brought it home to at least 10 states. The Alabama Department of Public Health confirms that the patient contracted the disease while in Haiti and has recovered.
Dr. Xing Ping Hu, an entomologist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, says all the reported Chikungunya virus cases in United States are travel-associated.
“Chikungunya virus is not currently found in the United States,” she says. “There is a risk that the virus will be imported to new areas by infected travelers.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Chikungunya virus is transmitted to people through mosquito bites. Mosquitoes become infected when they feed on a person already infected with the virus. Infected mosquitoes then spread the virus to other people through bites.
Hu adds that the two primary mosquito species known to spread this virus are found in Alabama. Unlike most mosquitoes, these two species bite mostly during the daytime. Additionally, they are the same mosquitoes that transmit the virus that causes dengue fever.
Additionally, there are other mosquito-borne illnesses that people in Alabama may contract. People have contracted both Eastern equine encephalitis and West Nile virus in the state over the past decade.
Hu says it is important that people are proactive in reducing their exposures to mosquitoes.
“One of the simplest tasks people can take is to reduce mosquito-breeding sites,” she says.
She recommends homeowners eliminate potential sources of stagnant water where mosquitoes can breed.
“Dispose of any water-holding containers, including discarded tires and soft drink cans,” she says. “Store containers, such as buckets, in garages or barns. If you must leave them outside, turn them over so that they do not collect rainwater. Turn over plastic wading pools or wheelbarrows when not in use.”
She says that keeping shrubs and other vegetation trimmed low can eliminate resting sites for mosquitoes in the daytime.
“People can continue outdoor activities, but they should take precautions to reduce the risk of being bitten by mosquitoes by employing personal and household protection measures,” she says.
She says people should minimize time spent outdoors between dusk and dawn.
“Wear shoes, socks, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt when outdoors for long periods or when mosquitoes are most active. If you use both sunscreen and insect repellent, apply sunscreen first and then the repellent. You may want to use an EPA-registered mosquito repellent applied according to label directions, when you are outdoors.”
Photo of Asian tiger mosquito, Aedes albopictus, by Susan Ellis of Bugwood.org
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