Yesterday, Palm Beach County health officials sent out the alert: a second case of the mosquito-borne, bone-crushing virus everyone is having trouble pronouncing these days has been detected in the area. A single case of Chikungunya contracted locally could have meant anything; this second instance, however, is prompting health officials to draw some troubling conclusions.
Dr. Alina Alonso, the director of the Florida Department of Health in Palm Beach County, tells New Times that the second Palm Beach County case was contracted in the Boynton Beach area. "It is too far from the the first case, mosquitos don't travel that far, so its not linked proximity-wise, so we have found no history to link the cases together."
The second, latest Palm Beach case comes after a 50-year-old man from the county contracted the virus earlier this month. Also a Miami-Dade woman was diagnosed at the same time. This week, another locally-contracted case was reported in St. Lucie county.
Taken all together, what do the cases mean? "We assume now that the virus is in the mosquito population," Alonso says. As a result, the Florida Department of Health has upgraded their advisory to "Alert" status.
"We hope that it will stay like the Dengue we've seen where we only had sporadic cases in certain seasons," Alonso says. "We hope it won't get to the point where it takes hold in the community and we see it all the time."
Symptoms for the virus include high fever, joint pain in the arms and legs, and rash. Usually the red flags show up about three days after a mosquito bite. Because the symptoms are relatively typical, Alonso figures more people in South Florida have the virus and don't know it.
"I would suspect that there are cases where people have sub-clinical manifestations," she explains. "In other words they're not sick enough to call attention to go to the doctor. And then there are people who are sick enough who don't realize this is something they'd go to the doctor for, so they have not been tested."
If you do start showing symptoms, it's important you cover up so you can't be bitten again. The fever only spreads mosquito-to-mosquito, so if you are infected, you put others at risk if a bug bites you again and then snacks on someone else.
Also, according to Alonso, the first Palm Beach County man infected is doing better. "He's recuperated well."
Send your story tips to the author, Kyle Swenson.