Health officials in the U.S., Caribbean and Europe warn that the chikungunya mosquito-borne virus, now on the increase in the Caribbean, could make its way into the U.S., Canada and South America.
What began as 10 confirmed cases on French St. Martin in December has grown to nearly 2,000 confirmed cases as of March 1 on numerous Caribbean islands, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).
Outbreaks in the Caribbean could trigger a number of cases in travelers returning to the U.S., which could result in introduction of the disease in the U.S.
The following islands have reported confirmed cases of chikungunya virus, which is caused by the bite of an infected mosquito: St. Maarten/Martin, Martinique, St. Barts, Guadeloupe, Anguilla, French Guyana, Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands, St. Kitts and Dominica.
Although rarely fatal, an infection with the chikungunya virus causes severe pain, high fever, headache, nausea and rash. There is no vaccine or medicine to prevent chikunguya.
The name is derived from an East African word for "that which bends," a reference to the posture of infected people stooped over from joint pain.
The disease cannot be spread directly from person to person, but a mosquito that bites an already infected person can spread the disease by biting another person, according to the CDC.
To combat the spread, experts recommend practical measures such as eliminating standing bodies of water where mosquitos breed, using mosquito nets, wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants and using mosquito repellents.