Harris County is reporting its first confirmed case of the mosquito-borne Chikungunya virus. The case involves a man who recently returned from international travel. This is the second case of the virus in Texas, after a man in Williamson County was also diagnosed with the Chikungunya earlier in the week. The Chikungunya is spread by the bite of infected Aedes mosquitoes, which bite during the day. It cannot be spread by human contact, but has been prevalent in the Caribbean since last year. "Although it's seldom a deadly illness, it's extremely unpleasant," says Dr. Peter Hotez with Baylor College of Medicine. "It's associated with a lot of joint pains, high fever and a rash, and sometimes those joint pains can persist for a long time."
Dr. Hotez isn't surprised the Chikungunya has made its way to the Houston area. "Given the fact that we have two types of mosquitoes capable of transmitting the virus, given the fact that we have a warm, tropical climate, and given the fact that we have a lot of areas of poverty with environmental degradation," he says. And while the city does spray for mosquitoes regularly, there are things individuals can do. "People who spend lots of time outdoors should take precautionary measures to prevent transmission," says Dr. Hotez. Those measures include covering arms and legs, using insect repellents, and getting rid of containers of standing water.
Local health officials recommend that anyone who has just returned from an overseas trip and experiences fever, joint pains or a rash within two weeks report it to their doctor. For others, it's important to take those extra precautions during the hot summer months. "Prevention is key," says Dr. Umair Shah, Executive Director of the Harris County Department of Public Health.