A Tulsa County resident, who recently traveled to Haiti on a mission trip, is the first Oklahoman confirmed to test positive for the chikungunya virus, the state Health Department confirmed Thursday.
Chikungunya virus is transmitted to people by mosquitoes and can cause a range of symptoms, including fever, joint pain and headache, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Thus far, the only confirmed cases of chikungunya in the U.S. have been among people who traveled to other countries where mosquitoes carry the virus. Chikungunya outbreaks have occurred in countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Indian and Pacific Oceans, according to the CDC.
In late 2013, the first local transmission of chikungunya virus in the Americas was identified in Caribbean countries and territories, according to the CDC. “Local transmission” means that mosquitoes in the area have been infected with the virus and are spreading it to people.
State epidemiologist Kristy Bradley said thus far, there has been no local transmission confirmed in the United States.
“There are no American mosquitoes spreading chikungunya virus right now,” Bradley said. “The national media has sort of confused that piece of the story.”
Bradley said public health officials in the U.S. are primarily concerned that residents will contract chikungunya in other countries, and then upon returning home, mosquitoes in the U.S. will bite those residents and contract chikungunya and then spread it to other residents.
Oklahoma is home to two types of mosquitoes known to be able to carry chikungunya, the aedes albopictus, or Asia tiger mosquito, and the aedes aegypti, or yellow fever mosquito, Bradley said.
“If the right type of mosquito bites that person while the virus is circulating in their blood, then those local mosquitoes have then become infected, and that’s the beginning of establishing local transmission of the virus,” Bradley said.
Residents who contract the virus should isolate themselves for seven days after developing symptoms, the time period when they have the highest levels of the virus in their blood, Bradley said.
Chikungunya was first described during an outbreak in southern Tanzania in 1952, according to the World Health Organization.
The name “chikungunya” derives from a word in the Kimakonde language, meaning “to become contorted,” and describes the stooped appearance of sufferers with joint pain.
Most people exposed to chikungunya will develop symptoms, although it does not often cause death, according to the state Health Department.
Although the most common symptoms are high fever and severe pain in multiple joints, other symptoms may include headache, muscle pain, joint swelling or rash, according to the state Health Department.
Most people feel better within one week, but the joint pain can persist for months to years in some cases.
Bradley said people who are considering traveling overseas to any Caribbean island, South America, Africa or Southeast Asia should take extra precautions against mosquito bites. However, the prevalence of chikungunya is not a reason to cancel travel plans at this time.
Rather, the Health Department is attempting to raise awareness about chikungunya, not scare people, she said.
For example, it’s important to pack plenty of mosquito repellent, Bradley said. Also, because mosquitoes that carry chikungunya are active during the day, people who will be outdoors while traveling should consider wearing clothing with permethrin insecticide on it.
“If people do experience mosquito bites while they are in the Caribbean or other countries where this disease is circulating, and they experience symptoms, such as fever, joint paint or other symptoms that may be related with chikungunya, they should see their physician and request testing for chikungunya,” Bradley said.