The Texas Department of State Health Services has 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 patient, a resident of Williamson County just north of Austin, recently returned to Texas from a trip to the Caribbean where chikungunya has been causing human disease since late 2013. 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 is not transmitted from direct person-to-person contact, but a person with the disease can be the source of the virus for mosquitoes that can then transmit the virus to others through a bite. To prevent the spread of the disease, people with chikungunya should be especially careful to avoid exposure to mosquitoes during the first week of illness.

Infections are rarely fatal but can cause severe joint pain, high fever, head and muscle aches, joint swelling and rash. 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.

State health services encourages people to protect themselves from mosquito bites at home and while traveling. The Aedes mosquitoes that transmit chikungunya are active and bite during the day. Precautions include:

• using an approved insect repellent every time you go outside and following label instructions;

• draining standing water where mosquitoes can breed;

• wearing long sleeves and pants when outside; and

• using air conditioning or making sure doors and windows are screened to keep mosquitoes outside.

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.

Because the symptoms are similar, state health services encourages physicians to consider both chikungunya and dengue infection in patients with acute onset of fever and joint pain and who have recently visited areas where at least one of the viruses is present.

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