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The two species of mosquitoes that spread chikungunya are found in the southern and eastern United States and the first local transmissions could occur this summer given the large number of U.S. travelers to the Caribbean, Nasci said. Already, the Florida Department of Health has reported at least four imported cases from travelers to Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Dominica.

“What we’re seeing now is an increase in the number of infected travelers coming from the Caribbean, which is expected because there’s a lot of U.S. travel, a lot of vacation travel, a lot of work travel,” he said.

Around the Caribbean, local authorities have been spraying fogs of pesticides and urging people to remove standing pools of water where mosquitoes breed.

An estimated 60-90 percent of those infected show symptoms, compared to around 20 percent for dengue, which is common in the region. There is no vaccine and the only cure is treatment for the pain and fluid loss.

One consolation for those suffering from the illness is that unlike dengue, which has several variants, people only seem to get chikungunya once.

“The evidence suggests that once you get it and recover, once your immune system clears the virus you are immune for life,” Nasci said.

Associated Press writers Ben Fox in Miami; P. Solomon Banda in Fort Collins, Colo.; David McFadden in Kingston, Jamaica; and Carlisle Jno Baptiste in Roseau, Dominica, contributed to this report.