First case of chikungunya, a mosquito born virus, identified in Duval County

More cases reported elsewhere in state along with dengue fever, another disease spread by mosquito bites

By Charlie Patton Fri, Jun 6, 2014 @ 4:00 pm | updated Fri, Jun 6, 2014 @ 4:02 pm

The Florida Department of Health in Duval County on Friday confirmed a case of chikungunya fever, a disease spread by bites from infected mosquitoes. The case involves a 49 year old female who had recently been travelling in the Caribbean.

The disease, for which there is no vaccine and no known cure, can cause high fever, severe joint pain that commonly involves the hands and feet, joint swelling, back pain and a rash that starts 2-5 days after the fever begins. Fatal infections are rare but many patients suffer chronic joint pain, arthritis, loss of energy and depression lasting weeks to years, according to the Department of Health’s website,

Chikungunya and dengue fever — viral diseases spread by mosquito bites — pose a serious threat to Florida and residents should take steps to control mosquito populations to try to limit the danger, a leading health expert told the Reuters news service this week.

“The threat is greater than I’ve seen in my lifetime,” Walter Tabachnick, director of the Florida Medical Entomological Laboratory in Vero Beach, which is part of the University of Florida, told Reuters.

The Florida Department of Health, in its latest weekly report, said that through last week dengue fever had been confirmed in 24 people in Florida and chikungunya confirmed in 18 people.

The chikungunya virus was first identified during an outbreak in 1952 in southern Tanzania, although it is suspected to have been present in Africa and Asia for much longer, the website reports. The first known case of someone acquiring the virus from a mosquito bite in the Western Hemisphere was in December 2013 on St. Martin, an island in the Caribbean.

The virus is spread by two mosquito species: Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus. Both species are found in Florida, but up until now Florida mosquitoes have been free of the chikungunya virus.

“It was only a matter of time” until chikungunya made its way to Jacksonville, said Mobeen Rathore, the founding director of the University of Florida Center for HIV/AIDS Research, Education and Service (UF CARES) and president of Duval County Medical Society.

“Florida is in a perfect situation to be the new frontier in the United States for old diseases carried by mosquitoes,” Rathore wrote in a recent article. “Florida has the mosquito vectors that are responsible for spreading many of the mosquito borne diseases and we welcome thousands of visitors from countries where these diseases are present and Floridians visit many of the same countries.”

The great concern now is that someone who has been infected outside the United States returns to Florida and is bitten by a mosquito here, spreading the virus to Florida’s mosquitoes, Rathore said. That’s what makes mosquito control a critical part of the response to this new illness, he said.

“Avoiding mosquito bites is the key to preventing infection with chikungunya and other mosquito-borne diseases,” said Kelli Wells, director of the Florida Department of Health in Duval County. “Floridians and visitors are encouraged to take precautionary measures to help reduce the chance of being bitten. Remember to drain and cover.”

She was referring to the health department’s recommendations to drain all standing water and to wear long pants and sleeves in places where contact with mosquitoes is likely.

Charlie Patton: (904) 359-4413

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