Chikungunya cases spreading through Caribbean region

Cases of the mosquito-borne virus chikungunya are spreading through the Caribbean, according to health officials. 

The latest update issued by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that, as of Jan. 2, 123 cases had been reported on six Caribbean locations. 

These included 99 confirmed cases on St. Martin/St. Maarten, with 98 cases reported on the French-controlled St. Martin and one case on the Dutch-controlled St. Maarten; 13 cases in Martinique, with one person with the virus also found in French Guiana who had recently traveled from Martinique; three cases in Guadeloupe, including one case in a person who had recently traveled from Saint Martin; and seven cases in Saint Barthelemy. 

This is the first time locally-acquired cases of chikungunya have been detected in the Caribbean. No cases have been reported in the Cayman Islands. 

A recent study from the French Institute for Public Health Surveillance also reveals 200 other suspected cases have been reported by local GPs and pediatricians in Saint Martin, where the first locally-acquired cases of chikungunya were detected in the Caribbean.  

Dr. Kiran Kumar, Cayman Islands medical officer of health, said, “The World Health Organization does not advise special screening at points of entry into the country with regards to this event. Nor does it currently recommend the application of any travel or trade restrictions.” 

But Dr. Kumar is cautioning travelers to protect themselves against mosquito bites while visiting countries where the virus is endemic.  

“Those who experience fever and severe joint pains after their return should consult a physician and advise of travel history, so that doctors can assess and test for chikungunya. Such tests will be carried out at the Caribbean Public Health Agency, Trinidad,” he said.  

Symptoms 

Chikungunya is a viral disease, carried mainly by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, and has similar symptoms to dengue fever, which is spread by the same type of mosquito. Symptoms of the virus include a sudden high fever, severe pain in the wrists, ankles or knuckles, muscle pain, headache, nausea and rash. Other symptoms of chikungunya are joint pain and stiffness.  

The symptoms appear between four to seven days after the bite of an infected mosquito. The majority of clinical signs and symptoms last three to 10 days, but joint pain may persist longer. Severe cases requiring hospitalization are rare. 

There is no vaccine or treatment for chikungunya, which has infected millions of people across 40 countries in Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas since the disease was first recorded in the early 1950s. India, countries in the Indian Ocean, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Singapore and Indonesia are among the major countries currently with chikungunya outbreaks.  

Local prevention 

The Mosquito Research and Control Unit in the Cayman Islands advises that measures for controlling the spread of chikungunya are the same of those applied for the control of dengue as both diseases are transmitted by the same breed of mosquito.  

Alan Wheeler, assistant director of the MRCU, said that in the event of chikungunya spreading to the Cayman Islands, the unit would intensify its mosquito control operations targeting the adult mosquitoes carrying the virus by use of adulticides, as well as continuing to use larvicides which limit the production of new mosquitoes. 

During an outbreak of dengue fever in the Cayman Islands last year, the MRCU increased its efforts in battling the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the mosquito that spreads both dengue and chikungunya. 

Chikungunya was first described during an outbreak in southern Tanzania in 1952, according to the World Health Organization. The name “chikungunya” derives from word in the Kimakonde language, meaning “to become contorted” and describes the stooped appearance of sufferers with joint pain. 

Mosquito

Chikungunya is spread by mosquitoes. – PHOTO: USDA-Agricultural Research Service
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