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Doctors In U.S. On High Alert For Chikungunya Virus

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- If you've spent any time outside this summer, it's likely you've fought off plenty of mosquitoes.

But now there's even more reason to swat them away due to a new virus carried by the pests that's spreading quickly, CBS 2's Dick Brennan reported.

The new threat, a virus called chikungunya, has doctors such as Rutgers entomologist Dr. Dina Fonseca on high alert.

"The populations of mosquitoes are at their highest, at their peak, so that's why we're really worried about it," Fonseca said.

A bite by a mosquito carrying the virus can cause fever, rash and severe joint pain. Symptoms typically start a few days after a bite and can last for months, CBS 2 reported.

"Your hands, your feet, your knees and elbows really hurt," Fonseca said.

Prior outbreaks have occurred in Africa, Asia, and Europe. Late last year, the virus was found for the first time on the Caribbean islands, where more than 100,000 people have been sickened.

In May, officials declared chikungunya an epidemic in the Caribbean and there's concern that could lead to more cases in the United States.

"We should be worried about people coming in infected and potentially transmitting locally," Fonseca said.

Prevention is key and experts say to protect yourself from the virus, simply limit your exposure to mosquitoes.  They also advise wearing long sleeves and pants when outside and in possible contact with mosquitoes.

"These bite during the day, they're fierce biters," Peter Rendine of Bergen County Mosquito Control said.

Rendine said homeowners may be unwittingly hatching armies of mosquitoes by not getting rid of the standing water they need to breed.

"What we like to say to the homeowners when we find mosquitoes that they're breeding on their property -- that they're terrorizing their whole neighborhood," Rendine said.

Other simple measures can go a long way toward keeping your summer safe, like repairing broken screens, CBS 2 reported.

In July, New Jersey health officials urged residents to protect themselves from mosquito-borne illnesses this summer.

So far, 20 New Jersey residents have tested positive for chikungunya.

The first two U.S.-acquired cases of the chikungunya virus were reported in Florida earlier this month.

The health department has found West Nile virus in mosquito pools in Atlantic, Bergen, Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Passaic and Union counties.

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