Forsyth Co. medical director weighs in on chikungunya virus

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FORSYTH COUNTY, N.C. -- A person from Forsyth County has become the first to contract the chikungunya virus in our state.

Chikungunya is a dangerous mosquito-borne illness that originated in Africa. Experts say about five or six years ago, the virus mutated and spread to areas like the Caribbean. There, they say, is where the Forsyth County citizen contracted it.

Officials want to stress that the virus has not been found in our state, outside of this one case. The only mosquito capable of carrying the virus in our state is the Asian Tiger Mosquito.

Chikungunya causes flu-like symptoms, especially fever. However, those symptoms only last a few days. The potentially lasting effect is joint pain, which could go on for weeks or years.

"It's been a fairly explosive outbreak in the Caribbean, our back door," said Dr. Chris Ohl, medical director for the Forsyth County Department of Public Health.

Dr. Ohl says there have been over 130,000 cases reported in the Caribbean since October of last year.

The experts say the only way that the virus can spread is from mosquitos to humans and vice-versa. Other animals, such as dogs and cats, are not in danger. They say they are speaking out now in the hope of preventing someone else from bringing the virus back to our state.

"If an infected traveler came back from the Caribbean, while sick with this virus, [they] could get bitten by a mosquito and then that mosquito [could] bite somebody else and transmit the virus," said Dr. Ohl.

Experts say since the environment in the Caribbean differs from North Carolina's, it's hard to say how fast the virus could spread, if an Asian Tiger Mosquito were to contract it.

"If it did get into the mosquito population, and then the mosquito population then ended up being more human cases of it, then it could potentially become a problem. That hasn't happened," said Dr. Ohl.

Officials say female Asian Tiger Mosquitos can lay about 300 eggs in a lifetime, which is about one month. It takes about a week for an egg to grow to a full-size mosquito. Therefore, they are asking people to do "yard sweeps" every week. This entails dumping out any and all standing water which may be in your yard.

The reason for this is simple; it kills off the mosquito larva before they have time to develop. Asian Tiger Mosquitos only lay eggs in standing water. That means any tires, buckets, pipes, birdbaths, etc. can be possible breeding grounds for the mosquitos. They say it only takes a few ounces of water to support the eggs since they are laid on top of the water.

If you are planning to travel to the Caribbean, experts say you should wear light-colored long clothing and mosquito repellant to protect yourself. If you do begin to feel any symptoms of chikungunya, you're asked to visit a physician and inform them of your recent travels.

Experts say the virus only stays in the body from two days before symptoms develop to five days after.