The Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) is now investigating its first potential chikungunya virus case in a resident who traveled from Haiti recently.

Health officials said that the resident who experienced symptoms such as joint and muscle pain, fever and joint swelling may have the illness. Death from chikungunya is rare but experts say patients who have compromised immune systems are at a higher risk of infection and complications.

The mosquito-borne illness is rapidly spreading across the Caribbean. The United States has reported several cases of the chikungunya virus, including 25 patients in Florida who contracted the diseases from travelers while abroad. Experts say that the virus will soon spread among local mosquitoes in the U.S.

The chikungunya virus is believed to have originated from southern Tanzania in 1952. According to infectious disease experts, chimpanzees and other animals may have been the first ones to be infected. Mosquitoes which bit these animals got them infected and these animals bit people as well. The rapid spread of the virus possibly reflects the current increase of mobility in people and the change of climate today. Many animals, insects and plants change their habitats to adapt to the warmer weather.

"It's very important for individuals who think they might be infected with chikungunya virus to see their healthcare provider and to stay indoors while they are sick. Mississippi residents who are sick with chikungunya should stay indoors for at least 10 days and avoid mosquito bites, as native Mississippi mosquitoes could pick the virus and spread it to other people," MSDH State Epidemiologist Dr. Thomas Dobbs said.

The Department of Health reminds people of several precautions to protect themselves and the environment not only against the chikungunya virus but also the West Nile virus as well. It recommends the use of mosquito repellants that have DEET especially when people are outdoors. It advises people to remove standing water and all sources of it around their houses and yards to prevent breeding of mosquitoes. People are advised to wear light, long and loose clothes to cover their legs and arms and avoid places where mosquitoes are prevalent. Those that carry the virus are more active during daytime.

If someone is suspected of infection with chikungunya, he or she should see the doctor and check for symptoms. Pain medications are available over-the-counter but there is currently no treatment that eliminates the virus.

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