Local health officials are urging residents to drain standing water, wear covered clothing and buy mosquito repellent in an effort to avoid chikungunya, the feverish and painful disease that recently arrived in South Florida and is still increasing in parts of the Caribbean.
One Miami-Dade woman and one man from Palm Beach County developed the virus this summer, in the first instances of chikungunya transmitted in the continental United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Both people have recovered and there are no further updates on their condition, health officials said.
“It’s an isolated case,” said Tim O’Connor, the public information officer for the Florida Department of Health in Palm Beach County. “With everybody working together and fighting the bite we won’t see it spread.”
The virus is transmitted by mosquitoes, which can lay eggs in very small containers of water such as birdbaths, buckets or puddles. It cannot spread person-to-person, but if an infected person is bitten by the mosquito, that mosquito can become a carrier.
The best ways to protect against the disease remain tried-and-true methods of avoiding the pesky bug. Healthcare officials recommend the following:
• Drain any standing water from garbage cans, house gutters, pool covers and flower pots.
• Remember to drain even less obvious places, such as kids’ toys or the top of tarps.
• Cover windows and doors with screens to keep mosquitoes out of the house.
• Wear long sleeves, socks, shoes and long pants when outside.
• Buy insect repellent that contains DEET or picaridin.
• Use a turkey baster to drain plants that hold water, such as bromeliads.
• Maintain the water balance in swimming pools.
• Discard old tires, bottles and cans.
Though there are only two locally acquired instances of chikungunya, many cases have been imported from other countries. Floridians may bring back the virus from trips to the Caribbean, said Reynald Jean, the director for tuberculosis, epidemiology, disease control and immunization at the Florida Department of Health in Miami-Dade County.
More than seven months after it was first detected in the Western Hemisphere, the virus is still trending upward in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Martinique and Guadeloupe, said Donna Eberwine-Villagrán, a spokeswoman with the Pan American Health Organization. She added that signs of a slowdown are in St. Martin and St. Barthélemy.
Since March, there have been 16 imported cases in Miami-Dade County; 13 imported cases in Palm Beach County; and 23 cases in Broward County. There have been no reported cases in Monroe County. Statewide, there have been more than 80 imported cases, Jean said.
When the authorities hear there is a suspected case of chikungunya, the entire neighborhood where the person lives is sprayed for miles, Jean said.
Miami-Dade was set to conduct an aerial spraying of mosquitoes on Friday night, but that was a routine spray unrelated to the chikungunya virus, said Gayle Love, a spokeswoman for the county Public Works and Waste Management department.
She said aerial sprays are conducted throughout the season where there are high concentrations of mosquitoes.