Researcher warns virus could spread to U.S. mosquitoes

By Lindsey Elliott, Kansas State University news production specialist; Kristen Kimbrough, News4Jax intern
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To date, all confirmed cases of the Chikungunya virus in the United States have been in people who were infected in other countries.

But a leading researcher on the virus said we should be concerned about it getting into mosquitoes in the United States.

Dr. Stephen Higgs, a Kansas State University researcher, said people could come from overseas without even realizing they are infected.

"It takes a few days between getting infected and getting sick," he said. "They could come over and mosquitoes could feed on them at a time when they have virus in the blood."

If a mosquito bites a person with the virus and begins to carry it, we could be facing an outbreak, Higgs warned.

Chikungunya causes debilitating arthritic symptoms, which can last for days or even years.

Higgs said to take precaution by using repellant and avoiding the outdoors during dusk and dawn. He also said to remove standing water around your home because this a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

Higgs has been studying the Chikungunya virus and the mosquitoes that carry it for 10 years and said the type of mosquitoes that carry the virus are in the United States.

The virus has been around since the 1950s, but a recent change in the Asian tiger mosquito has made the virus more infectious.

Higgs' team proved there was a single-point mutation in the virus genome that altered the surface of the virus, making it about 100 times more infections for that particular mosquito.

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