Four people in the Boston area have been diagnosed with chikungunya, a viral disease spread to people by way of mosquitoes.
Typically, outbreaks of the disease are restricted to Africa, Asia, Europe and the Indian and Pacific Oceans. But as of late, there has been an increase in reported cases in the Caribbean islands, which some believe may eventually lead to more cases in the U.S.
“With the disease now appearing more frequently in islands neighboring the U.S., it’s quite possible we’ll begin seeing more cases of infected travelers bringing chikungunya home with them,” says Jeffrey Dvorin, MD of Boston Children's Hospital's Division of Infectious Diseases. “And because the types of mosquitoes that can carry and transfer the disease are present in Massachusetts, there’s an increased risk that it could spread more easily once here, like has happened recently with the West Nile virus. There’s a good chance we’ll be hearing much more about it in the coming years.”
People with chikungunya often develop a fever, rash and joint pain a few days after being infected. It rarely results in death—usually only among the very young, old or sick—but the symptoms can be severe in children.
And because chikungunya is transmitted via the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitos—which are aggressive biters that feed throughout the day instead of just at dawn or dusk—protecting against their bite requires a bit more effort.
To keep your family free of mosquito bites this summer, Dvorin recommends:
Using insect repellents
- Bug sprays with DEET or picaridin provide the longest lasting protection.
- If you use sunscreen and insect repellent, put sunscreen on first and the repellent last.
- Spray repellent on your clothing, not just exposed skin.
- Always follow the label instructions when using insect repellent or sunscreen.
Knowing your environment
- Don’t let children play around water that has been standing for a few days, like puddles or small pockets of rainwater as they may be a mosquito breeding ground. If you have a kiddie pool in your yard, drain it daily to keep the water from getting stagnant.
- Leave doors shut and make sure all your windows have screens without holes. Replace or repair screens if necessary.
- Wear long sleeves and pants when weather allows, especially when in areas with large mosquito populations like swamps or woods.
“Though a few cases of chikungunya have been discovered in the area, it’s not yet considered a public threat, so parents shouldn’t be afraid to send their children outside,” Dvorin says. “But before you do, make sure they’re protected with the right repellents and clothing. And if a child does come down with an illness with a fever accompanied by a rash and joint pains, you should contact your doctor.”