Two Maine residents who recently traveled to the Caribbean returned home with the chikungunya virus, marking the state’s first cases of the mosquito-borne infection in 2014.
The individuals — a man from Kennebec County and a woman from Oxford County —- had traveled separately to the Dominican Republic, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Neither was hospitalized and both are recovering from the virus.
“We have approximately three others that are under investigation right now,” said Maine CDC Director Dr. Sheila Pinette. “They’re all travelers.”
The virus, similar to Dengue fever, can cause excruciating joint pain. Chikungunya has slowly made its way to the Americas from Africa and Asia, and first was discovered in the Western Hemisphere late last year. In October, it appeared on the island of St. Croix, spreading rapidly throughout the Caribbean and other countries.
So far this year, the virus has sickened 243 travelers in 31 states, according to the U.S. CDC.
On July 17, a Florida man with no recent travel history became the first-ever reported case of chikungunya acquired within the U.S.
Maine recorded one case of the illness in a traveler last year.
Chikungunya — pronounced chik-en-GUN-ya — causes fever and joint pain. Other symptoms may include headache, muscle pain, joint swelling and rash. While rarely fatal, symptoms from the infection can linger for months and become debilitating.
Symptoms typically begin three to seven days after a bite, Pinette said.
Since no vaccine or treatment is available, health officials urge travelers to avoid mosquito bites by covering exposed skin and using insect repellent and mosquito netting.
The virus is transmitted by two species of mosquito not present in Maine: Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, the latter known commonly as the Asian tiger mosquito. Unlike other species, they remain active during the daytime.
Chikungunya cannot be transmitted person to person. Those who recover from the illness are likely to have lifelong immunity, according to the U.S. CDC.
For information about the infection, visit www.cdc.gov/chikungunya.