Tennessee has the kinds of mosquitoes that could transmit the Caribbean virus. And it also happens to be peak season for group mission trips to nations hard-hit by chikungunya, such as Haiti.
“Of particular concern is travel back to the southeastern U.S. – states like Tennessee – where we have the Asian Tiger mosquito, which is very good for transmitting the virus,” says Dr. Abelardo Moncayo of the Tennessee Department of Health, adding that the mosquitoes are “very active right now.”
The first case of chikungunya virus was confirmed Friday. The state now has 22 suspected infections, according to TDOH.
The first Caribbean cases didn’t begin appearing until this winter, and now the Centers for Disease Control reports 131,000 suspected cases in 17 countries.
Coming down with chikungunya isn’t pretty. There’s often a rash, vomiting and intense joint pain that can linger for months. Kathy Brumit, who is a nurse from Mount Juliet, arrived home from a cruise on Saturday and became so violently ill she went to the emergency room.
“It’s all I can do to get up and take a shower,” Brumit says. “I haven’t set foot outside since I got home from the hospital because I just haven’t felt like it.”
Staying inside is probably best to limit the spread of infection, according to epidemiologists.
Chikungunya doesn’t pass from person to person. But mosquitoes can carry the virus from one person to the next.
“If they don’t avoid mosquito contact, then they could infect our mosquitoes here in Tennessee,” Moncayo says.
So far, the suspected chikungunya cases have come from abroad. The CDC has no accounts of locally transmitted infections in the U.S.
But more cases are expected to arrive in Tennessee considering it’s also peak travel season. Since there is no vaccine available, public health officials have particular concern for group mission trips to places like Haiti. Bug spray is basically the extent of prevention.