The Tennessee Department of Health is investigating the first potential cases of chikungunya in the state. Multiple people from Tennessee recently traveled to the Caribbean, where the illness is now a widespread epidemic with over 100,000 suspected cases. Some of the recent travelers from Tennessee now have symptoms of the illness.
"This is often a terribly painful and uncomfortable illness, with no vaccine to prevent it and no specific treatment for those infected,” said TDH Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH.
“Recovery can be prolonged, so prevention is the only good option. Outbreaks have occurred in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Indian and Pacific Ocean areas and late last year the virus was found to have spread to the Caribbean. It is, unfortunately, probably just a matter of time before we have confirmed cases here."
Chikungunya is transmitted by daytime biting mosquitoes. Those who contract the illness may experience varying degrees of fever, joint and muscle pain, rash and joint swelling. Although deaths are rare, those at most risk include the elderly, those with compromised immune systems, and those who have high blood pressure, diabetes and/or heart disease.
“Chikungunya is spread by Aedes species mosquitoes, which feed during the day and are found in abundance in Tennessee,” said Abelardo Moncayo, PhD, director of the TDH Vector-Borne Diseases program. “It is imperative individuals experiencing symptoms of chikungunya virus minimize their exposure to mosquitoes to reduce risk of local transmission. A mosquito can pick up the virus from an infected human and infect others.”
TDH urges healthcare providers to contact local/regional health departments if there is a suspect case and to coordinate testing with the TDH lab to determine if the infection is associated with travel or local transmission. TDH also cautions those who travel abroad and those who may never leave the state to increase their mosquito bite prevention efforts. These are important for preventing a variety of mosquito-borne illnesses, such as West Nile Virus, which are present in Tennessee.
Tennessee Department of Health recommendations for preventing mosquito bites include:
• Be aware Aedes mosquitoes feed during the day as well as at dawn and dusk and to be properly protected.
• Use insect repellants such as DEET, Picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus or IR3535 on your skin, following all label recommendations for usage. Pay particular attention to recommendations for use on children and never apply any of these products around the mouth or eyes at any age. Consult your health care provider if you have questions.
• Certain products containing permethrin are recommended for use on clothing, shoes, bed nets and camping gear. Permethrin is highly effective as a repellent. Permethrin-treated clothing repels and kills mosquitoes and other pests and retains this effect after repeated laundering. Some commercial products are available pretreated with permethrin. Permethrin is not to be used directly on skin.
• Do not use perfumes, colognes or scented deodorants or soap if you’re going outside, as fragrances may attract insects.
• Remember “long, loose and light” when selecting outdoor wear. Long-sleeved shirts and long pants are best, and for improved effectiveness, tuck your pants into your socks and your shirt into your pants to form bug barriers. Wear loose-fitting clothing to prevent bites through the fabric. Light-colored clothes are less attractive to many insects and may allow you to spot them more easily.
• Eliminate standing water near your home, which can serve as a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Many containers, even those as small as a bottle cap, can hold enough water for mosquitoes to breed.
• Keep wading pools empty when not in use and store them on their sides. Replace water in bird baths weekly and don’t allow water to stand in buckets or barrels. If you have a rain collection barrel, make sure it has a tight-fitting screen on the top.
• Keep windows and doors closed or cover with screens to prevent mosquitoes from entering your home.
For more information about the chikungunya virus, go to: http://www.cdc.gov/chikungunya/.