PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. - More states are reporting cases of a potentially deadly mosquito-borne virus called Chikungunya, prompting the Centers for Disease Control to issue warnings to health departments across the United States.
"I would take it very seriously," said Maggie Hall, Pinellas County Health Department spokeswoman.
Hall sent out an email Friday reminding all residents and visitors to protect themselves from mosquitos because of the threat of serious mosquito-borne illnesses they can transmit.
Chikungunya cases have most recently been reported in North Carolina and Tennessee. However, of the 38 cases across the nation this year, 25 are out of Florida. There has already been one reported case in Hillsborough County.
The virus made its way from Africa, Asia and the islands in the Indian Ocean to the Carribbean countries. Travelers from these countries could have carried the virus back to the U.S.
"It is just a plane ride away," Hall said.
Symptoms of the virus mimic the flu, including a rash, fever, aching joints, particularly in the hands and feet, headache and muscle pain.
"You can think, 'Oh I just feel icky, i just feel rundown,'" Hall said.
Rarely is the tropical disease deadly.
However, babies, children and the elderly may be more vulnerable to the symptoms because of weaker immune systems.
This is why new mother Alexandra Santos is being extra precautions with her son Levi.
Levi is just 13 days old.
Santos and her husband run Aquaponics Cafe and have an aquaponic garden and greenhouse in their St. Petersburg backyard. There is no soil and the vegetables rely on water for their nutrients. To keep their vegetables hydrated there is water constantly flowing.
A mosquito would see their backyard as a five-star hotel.
"Mosquitos like stagnant water," said Michael Cockel, co-owner of the cafe .
The couple has an intricate system that re-circulates the water, helping to keep pesky mosquitos away.
Still, with Florida entering its rainy season, the couple is seeing water accumulate in their potted plants. Experts say that is not good because water is where mosquitos lay their eggs.
With Levi's immune system building up, this new mom refuses to take any chances.
"I want to get rid of the water as soon as I can," Santos said.
To protect your family, health officials say you can start by practicing the "Drain and Cover" method:
- Drain water from garbage cans, gutters, flower pots and any outdoor containers.
- Cover your skin by wearing shoes, socks, long pants and sleeves.
You are also urged to spray on bug repellent with DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon, eucalyptus and IR3535.
For infants younger than 2 months use mosquito netting.