June 17, 2014 -- Ashley Manning said she had no idea she was at risk for a new mosquito-borne virus that doctors say has a funny name and “fiercely unpleasant” symptoms.
Manning is one of about a dozen people from Georgia who contracted the chikungungya virus in the Caribbean. She said used DEET, the recommended mosquito-repellant, but was infected anyway.
“I just thought I wasn't going to be able to walk, like I was going to constantly going to have these pains,” Manning told ABC affiliate WFTV in Atlanta. "My joints were hurting really bad and I was like getting really out of breath and like having a fever.”
Manning was infected with the virus while working on a mission in Haiti earlier this month. At one point, she had a fever of more than 103 degrees and said she was treated at Northeast Georgia Medical Center with fluids and pain medicine.
The chikungunya virus is transmitted by mosquitoes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The virus began in Africa and Asia, but by 2013, it had spread to the Caribbean. The CDC recommends that those traveling in affected areas use mosquito repellant with DEET and wear long pants and long shirts to avoid being bitten.
Studies from 2006 to 2013 reveal an average of 28 U.S. cases a year, mostly from Americans traveling in Asia, according to the CDC. But the agency has already confirmed 39 cases since June 10, a spokesman told ABC News today, including cases in Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, Rhode Island and Minnesota. The spokesman said that those numbers would be updated later today.
The virus cannot be spread from human-to-human and so far no one has gotten sick from an infected mosquito in the United States, the CDC said.
There is no specific antiviral drug to treat the infection, which must ultimately run its course, according to Dr. William Schaffner, infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.
“The name in African means ‘bent over in pain,’ and it can be quite disagreeable,” he said. “The illness is unpleasant, but not fatal.”
Schaffner said symptoms such as headache, muscle pain, swelling of the joints or a rash can be managed with pain relievers and anti-inflammatory drugs. The illness usually lasts about three to seven days, “and then it’s over, except about 10 percent of the people continue to have joint aches and pains that may go on for several months to a year,” he said.
Dr. Jennifer Halverson, a Minnesota pediatrician who had been working in Haiti, got the disease in April, according to the Star Tribune.
She said that she awoke one night with excruciating joint pain and ended up in the emergency room.
“I’ve broken a bone. I’ve had other medical issues,” she told the newspaper. “I don’t think I’ve ever been in so much pain.”
When Americans are diagnosed, doctors have urged them to “quarantine” themselves in the house for eight days, so that they are not bitten by local mosquitoes, which can then spread the virus to others, according to Schaffner.
“The disease is spread widely in Haiti and the Dominican Republic because they have lots of mosquitoes and people come into contact with them," he said. “Now, people from the U.S. go to the Caribbean and may become exposed and come home while they are incubating and become ill here.”
Beyond wearing insect repellant, Schaffner advised removing standing water in bird baths and even house gutters, which can harbor mosquitoes.
“I think it’s difficult to establish itself in the United States,” he said of the virus, “because we’re more separate from the mosquitoes than in the Caribbean. We live in an air conditioning environment and sit on porches – but they are screened… There might be bursts of transmission, but it’s not very easy to establish in the United States.”