A Mansfield resident who was traveling in the Caribbean has brought the first case of the Chikungunya virus to Tarrant County.
Tarrant County Public Health confirmed the Chikungunya case. Spread by mosquitoes, the malady causes fever and severe joint pain.
Doctors made the diagnosis after the person returned home at the end of June. They declined to identify the individual.
But Anita Kurian, associate director of Tarrant County Public Health, said that the one week when the person was infectious ended around the first week of July and that no other cases have been reported.
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“There is no evidence of local transmission of Chikungunya virus in our community at this time,” Kurian said. “Our best bet now is to continue with active human surveillance for the disease, so we are urging all healthcare providers to maintain a high index of suspicion for Chikungunya virus disease, especially among patients who have traveled to places with the disease.”
So far, the local spread of the virus has been reported only in Florida.
Public health officials warn that the virus could be spread locally because the Aedes mosquito, which transmits the virus, is found in Texas.
Aedes mosquitoes are active and bite during the day. Culex mosquitoes carry West Nile virus, which is more prevalent in North Texas, and bite at night. So people are urged to use mosquito repellent during the day as well as at night.
Tarrant County has reported one West Nile virus case this year, in a Crowley resident.
Because Chikungunya has similar symptoms to dengue fever, Tarrant County Public Health is advising physicians to check patients for both the acute onset of fever and joint pain. Doctors should also consider whether patients have recently visited places where one of the viruses is present.
Unlike West Nile virus, in which only 20 percent of those bitten develop symptoms, those bitten by mosquitoes carrying Chikungunya exhibit symptoms 90 percent of the time.
But Kurian said Chikungunya is spread only when infected humans are bitten by mosquitoes.
“It does not amplify in the wild,” Kurian said. “Mosquitoes get infected by biting a person while a person is infectious.”
With West Nile, the virus is already present in the bird population.
Chikungunya complications tend to occur more often with infants, those over 65 and people with diabetes or hypertension. Chikungunya has no known cure but is rarely fatal.
“It can be quite disabling,” Kurian said.
‘That which bends up’
Chikungunya outbreaks have occurred in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Indian and Pacific oceans. In late 2013, the virus was found for the first time in the Americas on Caribbean islands and has since spread to Central America, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to Tarrant County Public Health, Chikungunya is an African word meaning “that which bends up,” referring to the joint pain of those infected.
If Chikungunya gets established, health officials warn that residents will need to protect themselves round-the-clock.
Those traveling to areas in the Caribbean or Central America where Chikungunya has been found need to take precautions and see their doctors immediately if they develop symptoms.