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Two Granite Staters test positive for Caribbean mosquito virus

New Hampshire Union Leader

July 08. 2014 7:29PM
Aedes aegypti is one of two tropical mosquito species linked to the spread of chikungunya. (MUHAMMAD MAHDI KARIM)

Two New Hampshire residents who traveled separately to the Caribbean in May are the first in the state to test positive for chikungunya, a virus that can cause fever and joint pain, state officials announced Tuesday.

The type of mosquito carrying the rarely fatal disease doesn’t count New Hampshire as its home.

“Currently being in New Hampshire, yes, you’d be more likely to get West Nile or EEE” than chikungunya, said Beth Daly, chief of infectious disease surveillance for the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Other symptoms can include a headache, muscle pain, joint swelling and a rash. The symptoms can sometimes be severe and debilitating, according to state officials.

Daly wouldn’t disclose the genders or the hometowns of the chikungunya victims, citing privacy concerns. They live in “different parts of the state,” she said.

She also declined to say which Caribbean islands they visited.

“The Dominican Republic is having a very large outbreak. They’re probably the most affected,” Daly said. “Haiti is having quite a few cases reported.”

It typically takes three to seven days after a bite from an infected mosquito for symptoms to appear, Daly said. Both people who contracted the virus went to their own health care providers. One was tested in late May, the other in June, she said.

The chikungunya virus can only be transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito, Daly said. There are two kinds of mosquitoes that transmit the virus and neither is found in the Northeast. At least one type is found in southeastern United States, but no one has tested positive from a mosquito found in the continental United States, she said.

According to the state, the mosquitoes spreading the chikingunya virus are found in many countries, most recently in the Caribbean and Central and South America.

“If (travelers are) coming back from their trip and they have a fever or muscle or joint pain, they should be suspicious of this infection because they’re having a widespread outbreak in the Caribbean,” Daly said.

There are no pills, like those used to help avoid malaria, that people can take to prevent chikungunya.

“It’s really avoiding mosquito bites,” Daly said. “It means using repellent, covering your arms and legs when possible, staying in the hotel or wherever you’re staying that they have screens (or nets around beds).”

Bigger threats

Deaths from chikungunya are rare. By comparison, Daly said, the death rate for victims of Eastern equine encephalitis is about 30 percent. It’s less than 1 percent for those infected with West Nile virus. Both are diseases carried by mosquitoes who live in New Hampshire.

New Hampshire has not recorded a EEE-related human death since 2005.

Tim Soucy, Manchester Health Department director, said he expects to get the first test results next week on whether any mosquitoes trapped locally are carrying EEE or West Nile.

“The chikingunya, you really have to travel to an area where it’s present,” Soucy said.

“It’s not going to be found locally,” he said. “If you’re fortunate enough to be traveling to the Caribbean, using bug spray, long sleeves and being careful at dusk or dawn,” will go a long way toward prevention.

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