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What Is Chikungunya?

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Now that the first locally-acquired cases of Chikungunya have been reported in Florida, you’re probably wondering what it is and why you should care.

Here's a break down of the mosquito-borne virus:

Why You Might Not Have Heard of It

The chikungunya virus is new to the Americas, though it’s long been found in Asia, Africa and Europe. It was discovered in the Caribbean islands late last year, and has since made its way to the continental United States by way of mosquito-bitten travelers returning from vacation.

Before July 15, there were 357 reported cases of chikungunya in the United States, including 121 in Puerto Rico, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Though the Puerto Ricans contracted chikungunya locally, every other case was acquired outside the U.S.

The Florida Department of Health reported Wednesday that 81 residents had contracted chikungunya while traveling to the Caribbean. And Thursday, two people who hadn’t traveled were diagnosed with the illness. This means that local mosquitos are spreading the virus.

Chikungunya is not spread person-to-person, but rather person-to-mosquito-to-person.

Why You Want to Avoid It

Ashley Manning, one of a dozen people in Georgia who contracted the virus while traveling, called the symptoms “fiercely unpleasant.” She said her fever reached 103 degrees and her joint pain was excruciating.

“I just thought I wasn't going to be able to walk, like I was going to constantly have these pains,” Manning told ABC News affiliate WFTV in Atlanta. "My joints were hurting really bad and I was like getting really out of breath and like having a fever.”

Chikungunya’s most common symptoms are fever and joint pain, according to the CDC. But it can also cause headaches, muscle pain and a rash. It isn’t fatal, but it can resemble dengue fever, another mosquito-borne virus.

It takes up to a week for symptoms to appear after a person has been bitten, according to the CDC. Most people feel better in about a week, but some experience joint pain for several months.

How You Can Protect Yourself

In Florida, residents have been advised to drain standing water. The mosquitos that carry chikungunya lay eggs in small water containers and bite during the daytime. To keep mosquitos outdoors, the state health department recommends repairing broken screens on windows and doors.

Residents also have been advised to wear long sleeves and pants outdoors and wear insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon, eucalyptus and IR3535, according to the Florida Department of health.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio