A mosquito-borne virus that's spreading in the Caribbean may have landed in Tennessee, according to health officials.
A group of Tennesseans that recently returned from the Caribbean is showing symptoms of the chikungunya virus, which include fever, joint and muscle pain, rash and joint swelling, according to the Tennessee Department of Health.
"This is often a terribly painful and uncomfortable illness, with no vaccine to prevent it and no specific treatment for those infected," state health commissioner Dr. John Dreyzehner said in a statement. "Recovery can be prolonged, so prevention is the only good option."
The virus spreads through bites from Aedes species mosquitoes, also known as daytime biting mosquitos, which are common in Tennessee.
"It is imperative individuals experiencing symptoms of chikungunya virus minimize their exposure to mosquitoes to reduce risk of local transmission," said Abelardo Moncayo, director of the Tennessee Department of Health's Vector-Borne Diseases program. "A mosquito can pick up the virus from an infected human and infect others."
Outbreaks of chikungunya - pronounced chik-en-gun-ye - have occurred in Africa, Asia, Europe and areas surrounding the Indian and Pacific Oceans, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Late last year, the virus appeared for the first time in the Caribbean.
Now, health officials fear it might have made its way to the U.S.
"It is, unfortunately, probably just a matter of time before we have confirmed cases here," said Dreyzehner.
The best way to protect yourself from the virus is to avoid mosquito bites by wearing insect repellants and outdoor clothing that's "long, loose and light," according to the Tennessee Department of Health. The department also recommended avoiding perfumes, eliminating standing water near your home and using screens on windows and doors to keep mosquitoes out.