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Lehigh Valley

Officials warn of Chikungunya virus from mosquitoes

Officials warn of Chikungunya virus from mosquitoes

Mosquitoes are a nuisance this time of year, but local doctors are warning of a new and serious disease the pests could be carrying.

"Mosquitoes carry a lot of things," said Dr. Luther Rhodes, infection control chief for Lehigh Valley Health Network. "Some are just a big nuisance, others are serious, life-threatening conditions."

Rhodes and other medical experts are warning about a new disease spread by the Asian Tiger mosquito. It's called "chikungunya." It's an African word meaning "to walk bent over," and severe joint pain is exactly what it brings.

"And it is intense," said Dr. Jeffrey Jahre, St. Luke's University Health Network's infectious diseases chief.

Jahre also warned chikungunya can mean an extremely high fever that can last up to 10 days.

"Almost always above 102 and frequently above 104, with a fairly sudden onset," he said.

Chinkungunya can also bring a painful rash, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

So far, cases locally are limited. St. Luke's and LVHN have seen only two cases each, but in just the last year, 100,000 cases have appeared in the Western Hemisphere.

"It's an old virus that just recently emerged in our hemisphere," said Rhodes.

And it's growing fast. Until now, cases have only popped in people who have travelled to the Caribbean or Asia. Just this week though, the first case originating in the U.S. popped up in Florida.

"Just a few years ago, none of us ever heard of West Nile Fever, and in three seasons, it became common in all 50 states," Rhodes said.

Bug sprays are the best way to protect yourself. Doctors say the best versions are sprays with a 20- to 35-percent concentration of DEET. Other effective repellants include picaridin and lemon eucalyptus oil.

"It's a virus that has, fortunately, a very good prognosis in most people," said Rhodes.

Most people get over these symptoms in about a week or so, according to experts. However, for the elderly and very young children, it can take a year or more to fully recover, and some may suffer heart and brain damage.

There is no cure for chikungunya, but two vaccines are currently in the advanced testing stages.

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