Health officials in New York said they are prepared for the possibility of local cases of the painful, mosquito-borne virus chikungunya. So far, New York state has reported 44 cases - the second most in the nation after Florida. All of the cases were identified after patients returned from traveling in the Caribbean, where there is an ongoing outbreak. But an epidemiologist with the New York State Department of Health, Jennifer White, said the state is in a unique position to fight chikungunya, thanks to the West Nile Virus.
"We do have a plan in place that can easily be adapted to something like chikungunya," White said.
Locally-acquired cases of West Nile Virus were first reported in 1999. White said if locally-acquired chikungunya cases appear, health officials will discuss ways to eradicate infected mosquitos. At this point, she said, even if there are local cases there is no way to know if chikungunya is here to stay, or just passing by.
"Really no one can predict at this point if there will be local transmission and even if there is, if it's something that would be sustained," White said. "Just because there's local transmission does not necessarily mean this is something that's then going to run rampant through the community."
Health officials say the best defense against chikungunya is to wear bug repellent and to watch out for symptoms.