Durham dodges mosquito-borne illness so far

Jun. 13, 2014 @ 04:50 PM

No known case of a painful mosquito-borne illness from the Caribbean has been reported in Durham so far, according to health officials.

The state’s first case of chikungunya was diagnosed in a Forsyth County resident who recently returned from the Caribbean.

The disease can be spread by Asian tiger mosquitoes that are common in the United States and aggressively bite during the day.

Dozens of cases have been reported in the United States among travelers returning from overseas, but so far, there have been no reported instances of the disease being acquired the continental United States.

There is no vaccine to prevent the disease, but precautions can cut the risk of being bitten, according to Susan Thompson, communicable-diseases program manager at the Durham County Department of Public Health.

They include using insect repellent, limiting skin exposure outdoors, staying in screened-in areas and preventing standing water, which attracts mosquitoes.

Symptoms of chikungunya usually start three to seven days after a bite by an infected mosquito and can include the sudden onset of fever and severe, often-disabling, joint pain in the hands and feet. Many patients feel better in a week, but joint pain, insomnia and headaches can persist for months.

No treatment for the disease is available. Doctors typically treat symptoms with rest, fluids, and pain and fever-relief drugs, and keep patients indoors under mosquito nets while they are infectious.

Dr. Carl Williams, the state’s public health veterinarian at the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, said if an outbreak happened in the state, it would likely be modest.

State health officials advise people who travel to countries where the illness exists to take precautions to avoid mosquito bites, and to consult a doctor immediately if they develop a fever within two weeks of returning home.

Using a repellent with DEET and applying pyrethrin to clothes is also advised.

This is also the season for tick bites, Thompson said.

Many of the same precautions to avoid mosquito bites apply to ticks. They include tucking pants into socks when you’re in the woods, wearing long-sleeved shirts and staying on paths.

It’s also important to shower when you return home and check your body thoroughly for ticks, Thompson said.   

More information is available at the Centers for Disease Control at wwwnc.cdc.gov/