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A disease that just emerged in the Americas may have made its way to Tennessee.

The Tennessee Department of Health said today it is investigating the first potential cases of chikungunya fever in the state. It is a mosquito-borne disease that is now circulating in the Caribbean. Tennesseans who recently traveled there are showing symptoms of the disease.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a warning in December about the chikungunya fever when it was first reported detected on Caribbean islands — the first confirmed cases of the fever being contracted in the Americas.

"This is often a terribly painful and uncomfortable illness with no vaccine to prevent it and no specific treatment for those infected," said Tennessee Health Commissioner Dr. John Dreyzehner. "Recovery can be prolonged, so prevention is the only good option."

Outbreaks had previously been reported in Africa, southern Europe, southeast Asia, India and islands in the Pacific Ocean and Indian Ocean.

Symptoms of the disease include fever, headache, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, muscle pain, rash, and joint pain. The illness can last from a few days to a few weeks, according to the CDC.

The disease is not usually fatal. Treatment is based on the symptoms.

People most at risk for dying include the elderly, those with compromised immune systems and people with diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease.

It remains to be determined whether chikungunya virus will follow the path of West Nile virus. West Nile, a mosquito-borne disease that was first discovered in Africa, began circulating in the Western Hemisphere in 1999 when it emerged in New York City. West Nile virus is now endemic in the United States, except for Alaska and Hawaii.

"Chikungunya is spread by Aedes species mosquitoes, which feed during the day and are found in abundance in Tennessee," said Abelardo Moncayo, director of the state Health Department's vector-borne diseases program. "It is imperative that individuals experiencing symptoms of chikungunya virus minimize their exposure to mosquitoes to reduce the risk of local transmission. A mosquito can pick up the virus from an infected human and infect others."

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