A week after the first human case of West Nile virus this season was discovered in Travis County, another mosquito-spread illness has popped up in Texas.
On Monday, the Texas Department of State Health Services confirmed the state’s first human case of chikungunya, a viral disease that can cause fever and severe joint pain and is spread to people by mosquitoes.
The Texas case is a Williamson County resident who recently returned to Texas from a trip to the Caribbean, where chikungunya has been causing human disease since late 2013. Williamson County is located just north of Austin.
According to the state health department, to date, no local spread of the virus has been reported in the continental United States, though imported cases make local spread possible because the mosquitoes that can transmit the virus are found in Texas.
Chikungunya isn't spread between humans, but a mosquito that bites an infected human could transfer the disease to others.
Dallas County Health and Human Services Director Dr. Christopher Perkins said his department is keeping an eye out for chikungunya.
“We’re screening. We’re asking people about their travel history," said Dallas County Health and Human Services Director Dr. Christopher Perkins. "Because, again, there have been no cases where it occurred here in the United States, on the mainland.”
Infections are rarely fatal but can cause severe joint pain, high fever, head and muscle aches, joint swelling and rash, a release from the health department said. Symptoms usually begin three-to-seven days after being bitten by a mosquito. There is no vaccine or treatment for the virus. Most people feel better within a week, though some people may develop longer-term joint pain.
Click here for more information about chikungunya from the Centers for Disease Control.
Despite this first case, Dr. Perkins said West Nile is a much bigger threat then chikungunya because it does not appear that mosquitoes in the U.S. are spreading chikungunya as of yet.
“It’s not as fatal or severe of an illness as West Nile, but nevertheless, it can cause a lot morbidity, as far as suffering, disease, such as joint pain, high fever,” he said.
In order to prevent the spread of chikungunya, the health department recommends the same mosquito-bite prevention techniques they recommend during West Nile virus outbreaks, including using insect repellent with DEET every time you go outside, draining standing water to prevent mosquito breeding, wearing long sleeves and pants, and avoiding spending time outside at dawn and dusk, when mosquitoes are most active.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with recent outbreaks in the Caribbean and the Pacific, the number of chikungunya cases among travelers visiting or returning to the United States from affected areas will likely increase. Cases have occurred in Africa, Southern Europe, Southeast Asia, and islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
Perkins said state health officials have been warning that chikungunya would arrive in Texas, it was only a matter of time that a traveler would bring it in. He said preventing mosquito bites is the key to avoiding mosquito-borne viruses.