The Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) confirmed the first case of chikungunya virus, a painful mosquito-borne illness, contracted by a Mississippi resident on June 23.

While this is the first sample seen in a local resident, it was not be the metro area's first taste of the virus. In May, a traveling medical professional from Alabama was working with a Jackson doctor when she noticed a strange rash. Upon arrival at River Oaks in Flowood, she was informed that she had contracted the chikungunya virus while working in Haiti earlier in the year.

The recent contraction of the virus by an unnamed Mississippian on June 23 was a result of a recent visit to the same island nation.

"We are investigating a possible chikungunya from a group of travelers to Haiti," said MSDH State Epidemiologist Dr. Thomas Dobbs. "There is a specific individual that we're most concerned about, but we're keeping an eye on all incoming cases from the Caribbean."

Though it was discovered in Africa more than 60 years ago, chikungunya virus was first detected in the Caribbean late last year. According to the Pan American Health Organization, about 135,000 people have been suspected or confirmed infected in the Western Hemisphere-mostly in the Caribbean-since then.

"Chikungunya virus is spread from person to person through the bite of the Aedes mosquito," Dobbs explained. "The mosquitoes that are spreading the virus in the Caribbean are not mosquitoes that we have identified in Mississippi in the past years."

However, he advised, "Mississippi residents who are sick with chikungunya should stay indoors for at least 10 days and avoid mosquito bites, as native Mississippi mosquitoes could pick the virus and spread it to other people."

He encourages individuals who think they might be infected with chikungunya virus to see their healthcare provider and to stay indoors while they are sick.

Health officials report that the symptoms of chikungunya-which loosely translates as "to become contorted"- include fever, muscle pain, headache, nausea, fatigue and rash. Deaths from the illness are reportedly rare, but anyone with a compromised immune system is at higher risk of complications from the infection. No vaccine exists at this time.

"It's kind of a fluid situation, because we have a lot of people in Mississippi that do mission trips in Haiti," said Dobbs. "We are reaching out to providers to make them aware and then to notify us of potential cases."

MSDH is also working closely with the local authorities to limit the mosquito population.

MSDH suggests that Madison County residents follow precautions such as using a mosquito repellent that contains DEET while outdoors, removing all sources of standing water to prevent mosquito breeding, wearing long clothing to cover the arms and legs when outdoors, and avoiding areas where mosquitoes are prevalent and to prevent the spread of both West Nile and chikungunya virus.

For more information on chikungunya or other mosquito-borne illnesses, visit the MSDH website atwww.HealthyMS.com.