The city of Jacksonville is warning residents about chikungunya fever, a disease spread by bites from infected mosquitoes, after the Florida Department of Health in Duval County has confirmed a third case of the virus.
The case involves a 15-year-old girl who recently traveled out of the country, officials said.
The first case was a 49-year-old woman who contracted the virus out of the country. The second case was a woman (no age given) who contracted the virus out of the state.
There have been only a couple of cases in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties that have been contracted in the state of Florida.
"We've got a lot of water in Jacksonville and we've got to protect ourselves," said resident Andy Hofheimer.
He said he already takes precautions in the evenings to protect himself from being bitten by mosquitoes.
"You wear long-sleeve shirts to keep the sun off you," Hofheimer said.
"These particular mosquitoes are container breeders and they don’t fly far. So if they’re breeding in or around your house, you know what you can do is obviously eliminate the water around your house," said John Shellhorn, chief of the city of Jacksonville’s Mosquito Control Division. "We try to rotate chemicals that we’re using and that also decrease the chance or likelihood that the mosquitoes are going to build a resistance."
State officials said that the number of Florida travelers who have contracted the virus has now risen to 81.
"It’s something that we really need to monitor closely. Here in Jacksonville it’s not at a crisis level," said Shellhorn.
If a person is infected and bitten by a mosquito, that mosquito may later spread the infection by biting another person, officials said. It takes three to seven days for the first symptoms to appear, officials said.
The virus made its way from Africa to the Caribbean and now Florida.
Health experts said one of the biggest problems is, people who leave to go out of the country don't protect themselves like they would at home.
"When we see a lot of travel now during the summer months to endemic countries like the Caribbean, it's not unlikely for people to bring the virus back to the U.S. because people don't think about wearing mosquito repellant on vacation," epidemiologist Haley Zachary said.
Jacksonville is now trying to avoid a crisis level of the virus by changing its approach to spraying. The Mosquito Control Division is also trapping and monitoring the bugs for the chikungunya virus.
"We’re not as concerned about cases contracted outside the U.S., but what we have to be on guard for is for it becoming endemic locally, which means somebody brings it in from outside our country and then they get bit and it gets into the local mosquito population," said Shellhorn.
There are seven mosquito control units patrolling Duval County at dusk and dawn, with a change in insecticides, so that the bugs don’t develop a resistance.
"We’re looking at some new traps that we’re looking to attract, which is more attractive for that kind of species of mosquito. We’ll be deploying those later this year and kind of getting a feel for it," said Shellhorn.
So far none of the mosquitoes captured in Duval have tested positive for the virus, but Shellhorn said they are typically found in urban locations and residential neighborhoods.
"Citizens don’t need to panic, but I would still encourage them to take protective measures, regardless of chikungunya or not," said Shellhorn.
He told News4Jax that the traps will be in place within a few months and that the new traps will be a great tool to monitor the mosquitoes and any viruses they may carry.
Health officials offer the following advice:
Drain standing water to stop mosquitoes from multiplying.
- Drain water from garbage cans, house gutters, buckets, pool covers, coolers, toys, flower pots or any other containers where sprinkler or rain water has collected.
- Discard old tires, drums, bottles, cans, pots and pans, broken appliances and other items that aren't being used.
- Empty and clean birdbaths and pet's water bowls at least once or twice a week.
- Protect boats and vehicles from rain with tarps that don't accumulate water.
- Maintain swimming pools in good condition and appropriately chlorinated. Empty plastic swimming pools when not in use.
Cover skin with clothing or repellent.
- Wear shoes, socks, long pants and long-sleeves.
- Apply mosquito repellent to bare skin and clothing.
- Always use repellents according to the label. Repellents with 30 percent DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus and IR-35 are effective.
Cover doors and windows with screens to keep mosquitoes out.
- Keep mosquitoes out of your house. Repair broken screens on windows, doors, porches, and patios.
People at increased risk for severe disease include newborns exposed during delivery, adults 65 and older, and people with chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, etc.
Symptoms of chikungunya include sudden onset of high fever (over 102 degrees), severe joint pain mainly in the arms and legs, headache, muscle pain, back pain and rash. Symptoms appear on average three to seven days after being bitten by an infected mosquito. Most patients feel better after a few days or weeks. However, some people may develop long-term effects. Complications are more common in infants younger than 1; those older than 65; and people with chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension.
If you experience symptoms of chikungunya fever, consult with your health care provider immediately and protect yourself against further mosquito bites. Avoiding mosquito bites while you are sick will help to protect others from getting infected.