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CDC: Chikungunya Virus Now in the Western Hemisphere

First 10 cases seen among non-travelers identified in St. Martin in the Caribbean

FRIDAY, Dec. 27, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- The mosquito-borne chikungunya virus has been identified for the first time among non-travelers in the Western Hemisphere, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While outbreaks of the virus have been seen in Africa, Asia, and the Pacific, this is the first time the virus has been confirmed in non-travelers in the Western Hemisphere. Ten cases have been confirmed on the French side of St. Martin in the Caribbean, with confirmation testing ongoing on other suspected cases. The virus is transmitted by the same mosquitoes that spread the dengue virus, which are widely found in the Caribbean, the tropics, and even in some areas of the United States. Given the extensive travel of U.S. residents to the Caribbean, the CDC estimates more cases of infected U.S. travelers in the coming years and has issued a travel health notice for those planning to travel to St. Martin.

The CDC has been working with the Pan American Health Organization since 2006, as well as regional countries, to prepare for the arrival of chikungunya in the Americas. Efforts included establishing regional response plans, a planning workshop for 22 Caribbean countries, and training of laboratory staff from 10 regional reference labs. Health care providers should be on the alert for patients returning from the Caribbean who complain of fever and joint pain as well headache, muscle pain, or rash.

"Microbes know no boundaries, and the appearance of chikungunya virus in the Western hemisphere represents another threat to health security," CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., said in a statement.

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