Health Check: Chikungunya cases appear in US

Aedes aegypti mosquito

There's a growing mosquito-borne health threat linked to the Caribbean.

It's called the chikungunya virus, and it's affecting those traveling to that region.

More than 130,000 cases have been reported there, and cases are starting to trickle into the United States. The virus causes high fevers and severe joint pain.

"This particular virus is being transmitted by the yellow fever mosquito called aedes aegypti. Fortunately for us, the mosquito does not occur this far north," said Dr. Theodore Andreadis, of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station.

What concerns Andreadis is people contracting the virus while traveling. He said personally, he wouldn't go because the risk is too great.

"Unfortunately, I think we're likely to see more. I think anyone in the states who has recent plans to travel to the Caribbean needs to take some precautions. They should really check with a number of these islands for public health alerts and they're going to certainly want to use repellent," Andreadis said.

Using repellent is a suggestion that Andreadis also gives for people now that the weather is warming up and mosquitos are out. The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station is testing the insects for any traces of West Nile virus and Eastern equine encephalitis.

"Right now we're seeing a fairly typical year. We're testing roughly several thousand a day that are coming in. Nothing terribly unusual. We haven't detected any of these viruses right now. The risk of contracting either Eastern or West Nile is very low at this time of the year," Andreadis said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, no vaccine exists to prevent infection by the chikungunya virus, and no medicine is known to treat the virus.

The disease rarely causes death, and most people feel better within a week, but symptoms can be severe.