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Maryland health officials warn against West Nile, new virus

Friday - 7/18/2014, 5:29am  ET

Mosquito (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is on the lookout for mosquitoes infected with a new virus as well as West Nile virus. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON -- The mosquito traps are out -- and the West Nile virus surveillance season is underway in Maryland.

Chief of Rabies and Vector-Borne Diseases for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Kim Mitchell says traps have been placed at sites across the state, and mosquitoes caught will be sent to DHMS labs for testing.

Meanwhile, Marylanders are being asked to take basic preventative measures.

Mitchell suggests using insect spray containing DEET on exposed skin, draining standing water from objects around homes, and wearing long sleeves and pants outdoors whenever possible.

Also, she says it is a good idea to stay inside during peak feeding hours for mosquitoes, which are usually around dusk and dawn.

But Maryland is not just looking out for disease-bearing mosquitoes in the state. DHMH is tracking cases of imported mosquito-linked diseases as well.

Key among them is chikungunya, which is carried by mosquitoes in parts of the Caribbean and other, more distant locales.

"We have already had five cases of chikungunya in Maryland this year," says Mitchell. "All of them were imported, so they were all acquired overseas."

There is one big difference between chikungunya and West Nile virus. Mosquitos can pick up West Nile from other animals, and then pass it to humans. But the only way a mosquito can become a chikungunya carrier is to bite an infected person.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has announced the first cases of chikungunya in the United States involving a patient who had not recently traveled abroad.

Two people in Florida have domestically-acquired chikungunya infections, officials said Thursday. In both cases, they said, a person infected with the virus after visiting the Caribbean was then bitten again by an uninfected mosquito in Florida, which then transmitted the illness further.

Mitchell says it is important for people who picked up chikungunya while traveling to take extra precautions when they get home.

"We do caution them to really stay inside as much as possible and avoid going outside and getting bitten so mosquitoes can acquire it," Mitchell says.

She says with chikungunya, people will usually start to feel the affects about three to seven days after they were bitten, "and the most common symptoms are fever and severe joint pain, particularly in their hands and feet."

Other symptoms include headache, muscle aches joint swelling and rash -- all seen with West Nile.

Mitchell says last year, there were 16 human West Nile cases in Maryland, which is fairly typical.

Mosquitoes carrying the West Nile virus have already been detected this summer in Woodbridge, Virginia. Prince William County's Mosquito Control Program has taken extensive measures to deal with the problem, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

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