Health officials are on alert for a debilitating virus that could spread around Southern California and potentially infect thousands of people.
Chikungunya is a virus carried by the Asian tiger mosquito and has been spreading rapidly in the Caribbean.
One mosquito breed that can transmit the virus is already present in the Southland.
Now, officials are concerned that someone infected with chikungunya will return to the United States, get bit by an Asian tiger mosquito and spread the virus.
"It’s not really a matter of if chikungunya will be imported into the United States," said Kelly Middleton, the director of community affairs for the Greater Los Angeles Vector Control District. "It’s more a matter of when."
About 60 percent to 80 percent of people who get infected by the mosquito will show symptoms, which include severe headaches, fever and very significant joint pain.
Although the virus is rarely fatal, some symptoms can last for months.
The CDC reported at least 56 cases of chikungunya in the United States, including one in California, all of whom were bitten while traveling to the Caribbean.
Vector control officials are hoping to contain the insect before an outbreak occurs. West Nile virus, another mosquito-borne virus, is also present in Southern California.
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Residents can take steps to reduce the chance of Asian tiger mosquitoes breeding in their backyards:
- Dump and drain all standing water around the home
- Remove all water dishes from beneath potted plants
- Empty bird baths and small fountains completely or clean them thoroughly every three days
- If you have a pond, ask your district's vector control office for free mosquitofish
- Throw away trash in the yard, including wrappers and bags
- Properly maintain swimming pools, wading pools and spas
Asian tiger mosquitoes are aggressive daytime biters. If you notice any mosquito activity in your area, contact vector control immediately.
Dr. Bruce’s advice: There is no need to panic, but we should take precautions. Remember to keep your home and your body mosquito-free to protect yourself from West Nile virus and chikungunya.