First case of chikungunya confirmed in Alabama

Chikungunya virus is transmitted to people by mosquitoes. (Source: MGN Online)
Chikungunya virus is transmitted to people by mosquitoes. (Source: MGN Online)

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - Alabama Department of Health Officials confirm the first case of chikungunya in Alabama. A Huntsville-area woman contracted the virus while in Haiti for a work-related trip.

According to the Alabama Department of Public Health, the woman went to the doctor in Mississippi before returning to Alabama. She did not return to Alabama until the virus was out of her system.

The most common symptoms of infection are fever and joint pain.

Chikungunya virus is transmitted to people by mosquitoes. The virus can't spread from person to person, however, an infected person can transmit the virus back to mosquitoes in the United States. Those mosquitoes can then bite and infect other people. State health officials believe chikungunya will likely begin spreading that way soon. Officials said it is a matter of time.

"It's likely that it's going to spread further into the United States, especially with as many people traveling to the Caribbean and coming back to the States," said Thomas Miller with the Alabama Department of Public Health. "We are expecting to see a much higher rate of chikungunya over the coming weeks and months."

Chikungunya originated in Africa and appeared in the Caribbean last year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report cases of chikungunya have been recorded in all of Alabama's neighboring states, but they were all acquired while traveling outside the United States. There have been no locally transmitted cases in the U.S., but the two types of mosquitoes that can spread the virus live in Alabama.

Karen Crowson leads mission trips in Haiti for Monte Sano United Methodist Church. She said she became aware of the problem when her contacts in Haiti requested she bring lots of over-the-counter pain relievers like Advil and Tylenol - the only ones that really help with symptoms.

Crowson said the fact that there isn't a lot of infrastructure to drain standing water in that region does not help. She said her team follows all CDC guidelines before traveling, and tries to follow every proactive tip to avoid contracting the virus, even though that doesn't work every time.

"We recommend that you wear long sleeves and long pants, but nobody does it," Crowson said. "It is just way too hot. In fact, I am guilty; I will start in long pants, but have them rolled up by the time the day is done and have on a T-shirt. So we just spray, 35-40 percent DEET (repellant). If you keep that on, it usually does a pretty good job."

Crowson said two of her fellow missionaries believed they contracted the virus, as they returned from Haiti with some of the characteristic symptoms.

Mosquitoes carrying chikungunya are out during the day. Alabama health officials recommend:

  • Wear mosquito repellant
  • Don't wear perfume
  • Drain anything that holds water in your yard
  • If you feel ill, go to the doctor

Another case of chikungunya was reported in Georgia. To learn more about the virus, visit the CDC website.

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