A resident of San Cristobal, southeast of Santo Domingo, with symptoms of chikungunya fever waits to be treated at Juan Pablo Pina Hospital.

The Caribbean is being hit by a virus that is new to the region and strikes its victims with excruciating headaches, fever and joint pain similar to arthritis, the Associated Press reports.

The chikungunya virus gets its name from an African word that can be loosely translated into "contorted with pain," AP notes. Hospitals and clinics throughout the region are trying to figure out how to deal with the influx of patients suffering from an unfamiliar disease that is spreading quickly through mosquitoes.


According to AP, outbreaks are relatively common in Africa an Asia, but the first documented case in the Caribbean came in December in French St. Martin, presumably brought to the region by an infected traveler. Since then more than 50,000 suspected and confirmed cases have been reported. Chikungunya is rarely fatal but does cause great discomfort.

Government officials have been working to increase public awareness of the virus and also reduce the mosquito population.

The two species of mosquitoes that spread the virus are found in the Southern and Eastern U.S., AP notes, and there have already been four cases reported in Florida from travelers to Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Dominica.  It could be just a matter of time before the virus gets transmitted within the U.S.

"What we're seeing now is an increase in the number of infected travelers coming from the Caribbean, which is expected because there's a lot of U.S. travel, a lot of vacation travel, a lot of work travel," Dr. Roger Nasci of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told AP.


Read more at the Associated Press.