Health officials say a mosquito-borne illness that had afflicted Floridians who traveled to the Caribbean has now been transmitted within the state.
The Florida Department of Health on Thursday reported the first locally acquired cases of Chikungunya. A 41-year-old woman in Miami-Dade County and a 50-year-old man in Palm Beach County are out of the hospital and recovering from the illness, which is serious but rarely fatal.
This year, 81 cases of Chikungunya have been identified in Florida, including 15 diagnosed this week. Until Thursday’s announcement, all the cases had been contracted by people who had been traveling in the Caribbean.
These two cases are the first locally acquired infections in the continental United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As of Tuesday, the case count in the U.S. and its territories was 357. Of those, 123 were locally-transmitted, all in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, the CDC said.
There’s only one way to get infected, said Celeste Philip, DOH assistant director of public health. That is to be bitten by a mosquito that previously bit someone carrying the Chikungunya virus.
“What is important to remember is that Chikungunya is not contagious from person to person. It is not typically life threatening and will likely resolve on its own,” she said.
Chikungunya is rarely fatal, but can leave long-lasting symptoms. Fever and joint pain are usually the first symptoms of infection, and they appear between three and seven days of being bitten.
In addition to its arrival in the Caribbean last year, the virus has been found in 40 countries throughout Africa, Asia and Europe. Health officials say since there is no vaccine to prevent Chikungunya, residents need to take precautions against mosquitoes.
DOH epidemiologist Anna Likos said that includes draining standing water, covering your skin while outside with clothing and bug repellent, and making sure windows and doors have screens.