State health officials are urging Marylanders to be wary of mosquito-borne diseases like West Nile virus and, now, the dengue-like virus chikungunya — raising concerns after it was reported in a Florida man Thursday.
The chikungunya case is believed to be the first that was contracted in the U.S.; other cases had been reported in people who had recently traveled to areas where the virus is prevalent.
That is raising concern over the possible spread of the virus, which is not usually fatal but can cause fever and debilitating joint pain and cannot be treated. Though experts considered chikungunya’s spread to the United States inevitable, they are unsure if it will bring any outbreaks or how widespread they might be.
“It’s certainly expected — a number of us had predicted it several years ago,” said Barry Beaty, a professor of virology at Colorado State University and a member of the Baltimore-based Global Virus Network’s chikungunya task force. “Mother Nature is conducting an experiment on us, unfortunately.”
State health officials said this week they have begun annual monitoring for West Nile and also for chikungunya, urging residents to avoid mosquito bites by using repellent, wearing long sleeves and pants when concerned about mosquito exposure, and clearing yards and other outside areas of potential mosquito breeding grounds.
An invasive species known as the Asian tiger mosquito, which can carry both West Nile and chikungunya, prefers to breed in small, shady, man-made containers like empty cans or bottle caps, plant holders, wheelbarrows, garbage can lids and birdbaths. The Asian mosquitoes are known for aggressively pursuing humans, feeding during the day and following people into their homes and cars.