(CBS NEWS) - U.S. health officials today announced the first locally acquired case of chikungunya, a mosquito-borne virus that's become prevalent in the Caribbean in recent months.
The CDC reports a male patient in Florida was diagnosed with the virus, and had not recently traveled outside the country. Federal and Florida state health officials are investigating how the man could have contracted the virus domestically. They're also working to monitor the region in an effort to prevent additional infections and educate residents on ways to prevent mosquito bites. Local transmission occurs when the insect bites a person with the infection and then transmits the virus by biting others.
Chikungunya -- an African word that loosely translates as "contorted with pain" -- is most commonly found in Asia and Africa, and began appearing in the Caribbean last winter. Between 2006 and 2013, there were approximately 28 reported cases of the virus each year in travelers returning to the U.S. This year, travel-related chikungunya has been diagnosed in patients who have recently visited to the Caribbean.
As of July 15, there were a total of 357 cases of chikungunya reported by the U.S. and other territories to ArboNET, a national surveillance system that keeps track of mosquito-borne illnesses. Of that number, 123 cases were reported from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the remaining cases were detected in people who had recently returned from the Caribbean or South America.
The first locally transmitted case of chikungunya in the Caribbean was confirmed in December in French St. Martin. Since then the number of reported cases in the Caribbean has continued to rise. In April, for example, health officials in the Dominican Republic said there were 3,500 suspected cases since the virus was first discovered on the island, just the month before.
In the last few months the CDC and other health agencies have issued travel warnings for the Dominican Republic, St. Martin and other popular vacation destinations.
Chikungunya is a virus transmitted to people through two species of mosquitoes, Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus. Both species are found in the southeastern U.S., and in limited areas throughout other parts of the country.
The CDC is uncertain what course the virus will take in the U.S., though epidemiologists say it's unlikely to trigger outbreaks. However, West Nile virus, another mosquito-borne virus, is making its presence felt this season.
Symptoms of chikungunya include fever, muscle and joint pain, headaches and rash. Though rarely fatal, the virus can be extremely painful and debilitating. Currently, there is no vaccine for chikungunya. Patients typically recover from infection in about a week, though pain can persist for longer. According to the CDC, an infection is believed to provide lifelong immunity to the virus.