Chikungunya: It's not if, but when it'll become prevalent in the - KLTV.com-Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville, Texas | ETX News

Chikungunya: It's not if, but when it'll become prevalent in the US

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Mosquitoes in research labratory. Mosquitoes in research labratory.
Blake Bextine talks about mosquitoes. (Photo Source: KLTV Staff) Blake Bextine talks about mosquitoes. (Photo Source: KLTV Staff)
TYLER, TX (KLTV) - One Texas resident has tested positive for Chikungunya and local public health officials are gearing up to monitor the disease. The person contracted the disease after a trip to the Caribbean, but health officials say it has the potential to spread not only across Texas, but also throughout the United States.

The infectious disease is common in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the breed of mosquitos that transfer the disease to people are alive and well in the continental United States.

"The possibility of this becoming endemic in the United States is there," explains University of Texas at Tyler Biology educator Blake Bextine.

Bextine says there's still a lot to learn about the pathogen, but experts do know it won't spread quickly.

"Statistically, the odds of one person bringing it and starting an epidemic are pretty low," he says.

Russell Hopkins, who oversees public health emergency preparedness for the North East Texas Public Health district, says it's not a matter of if Chikungunya becomes prevalent in the United States... it's when.

"It's not endemic to this country, but West Nile a few years ago was not endemic to this country and now it is," Hopkins says.

The key differences between Chikungunya and West Nile are Chikungunya does not spread as quickly.

"A mosquito has to bite an infected person, then bite another person to transmit the disease,"  he explains.

Chikungunya also is not as deadly as West Nile, however it is incredibly painful.

"It's the pain that you go through... fever. It is much like Dengue Fever," Hopkins adds.

The precautions to protect yourself from West Nile or Chikungunya are the same.

"Don't be a mosquito farmer and that'll cut down on a lot of the disease," Hopkins says with a smile.

Biology experts say the southeastern states, primarily Florida, are where we are most likely to see Chikungunya cases grow over the next few years.

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