Health officials investigate report of new virus

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Health officials in Tennessee say they are investigating what could be a new mosquito-borne virus in the state.

The Tennessee Department of Health told media outlets on Tuesday that the state may have its first cases of the chikungunya (chik-un-GUHN-ya) virus, which is painful but not usually fatal.

Officials said those exhibiting symptoms recently traveled to the Caribbean, where the disease has reached an epidemic state. Symptoms, including a high fever, nausea and joint pain, can be severe.

“This is often a terribly painful and uncomfortable illness with no vaccine to prevent it and no specific treatment for those infected,” said Tennessee Health Commissioner Dr. John Dreyzehner. “Recovery can be prolonged, so prevention is the only good option.”

Abelardo Moncayo, director of the state Health Department’s vector-borne diseases program, says the species of mosquitoes that can carry the disease are abundant in Tennessee.

“It is imperative that individuals experiencing symptoms of chikungunya virus minimize their exposure to mosquitoes to reduce the risk of local transmission. A mosquito can pick up the virus from an infected human and infect others,” Moncayo said.

Vanderbilt University professor Dr. James Crowe Jr., who is a member of the Chikungunya Task Force Global Virus Network, said it’s likely that the disease will reach epidemic status in the U.S. over the next year.

“It’s just a matter of when, not if it will,” Crowe said.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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