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Puerto Rico health officials declare chikungunya epidemic as virus spreads in Caribbean

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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - Health officials in Puerto Rico on Thursday declared an epidemic of the mosquito-borne virus known as chikungunya, which was introduced into the Caribbean region late last year.

Health Secretary Ana Rius said that more than 200 cases had been confirmed on the island as of June 25 and that the majority of them were reported in the capital of San Juan and nearby areas.

The first case of chikungunya in the U.S. territory was reported in late May.

Also on Thursday, officials in Jamaica reported the island's first confirmed case. The chief medical officer, Dr. Kevin Harvey, said the virus was found in a person who had recently travelled to a country where there have been locally transmitted cases.

In Florida, health officials reported the first domestically acquired chikungunya infections in the United States. Officials said it happened in two cases, both of which involved a person infected with the virus after visiting the Caribbean being bitten again by an uninfected mosquito in Florida, which then transmitted the illness further.

Across the Caribbean, the Pan American Health Organization recorded more than 354,000 suspected and confirmed cases as of July 11. The Western Hemisphere's first locally transmitted case was confirmed in December in the French Caribbean territory of St. Martin.

Chikungunya was first identified in Africa in 1953. It causes a high fever and severe pain in the joints, but is rarely fatal. There is no vaccine, and it mainly is treated with pain medication.

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