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Arkansas health officials warn of chikungunya illness

January 10, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A new mosquito-borne illness could begin spreading across Arkansas this spring, according to state health officials.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the chikungunya (chicken-GUN-ya) virus reached the northern Mexico state of Sonora last week, and is likely to spread to other regions in Mexico, then to the continental United States, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported Saturday (http://bit.ly/1wHbkin ).

Chikungunya causes fever and severe joint pain, often in the hands and feet. Other symptoms include headache, muscle pain, joint swelling and a rash.

The virus originated in mosquito populations in Africa, southern Europe and Southeast Asia, and reached islands in the Caribbean in 2013, the CDC said. Most cases in the United States were found in people who had traveled to other countries, although there were a small number of cases in the Florida Keys last year.

Arkansas had five cases of chikungunya in 2014, all from people who contracted the virus while traveling, said Susan Weinstein, public health veterinarian with the Arkansas Department of Health.

“It will be unlikely that it wouldn’t move (into) Arkansas,” Weinstein said. “Just a little over a year ago, there have been over a million cases in the Caribbean. That is an incredibly fast spread of a disease.”

Adults older than 65, young children and people with medical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes or heart disease are at risk for more severe illnesses, according to the CDC.

The virus is different than the mosquito-borne West Nile virus in many ways, Weinstein said, chief among them that those with West Nile virus don’t show symptoms.

“Anywhere from 75 to 90 percent of people who get chikungunya are very aware. They get sick,” Weinstein said.

West Nile virus spread quickly across the country because mosquitoes that carry it live everywhere in the U.S., CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund said. Mosquitoes that carry chikungunya, however, survive only in the southern region of the country, Nordlund said.

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Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.arkansasonline.com

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