More than 3,000 cases of chikungunya, a mosquito-borne virus which causes joint pain, have been reported since the disease first emerged in the Caribbean region in December.
Three people reportedly have died in St. Martin from the virus since the first locally acquired cases were reported in the region.
There are also 15,282 suspected cases, which have yet to be verified, according to the latest update issued by the Caribbean Public Health Agency.
The virus is carried mainly by the Aedes aegypti mosquito and has similar symptoms to dengue fever, which is carried by the same type of mosquito.
The disease is now present in Anguilla, Aruba, British Virgin Islands, Dominica, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, St. Barthelemy, St. Kitts and Nevis, Sint Maarten and St. Martin, authorities say.
No local cases
The Cayman Islands public health department has confirmed that no local cases of chikungunya have been reported.
“We have no suspected cases of chikungunya at all. We are glad, and hope it will continue like that,” said Dr. Kiran Kumar, Cayman Islands medical officer of health.
Dr. Kumar still cautions travelers, however, saying, “Anything is possible if someone is bitten by an infected mosquito in countries where chikungunya exists.”
Those traveling to countries where chikungunya is endemic should visit the public travel clinic at least four to six weeks prior to travel, he advises.
“We have a travel clinic on Thursdays in the public health clinic … [You can drop by] to get advice on what diseases are present in that country [and] what vaccinations or precautions [you] have to take,” he said.
Dr. Kumar added, “In the case of malaria, we have tablets,” but he warned there is no vaccine or medical treatment available for chikungunya. The virus 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.
Cayman’s Mosquito Research and Control Unit has a specific program in place to target the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the main carrier of chikungunya.
“We have crews out every day searching and treating any containers we find harboring the mosquito larvae,” said Alan Wheeler, assistant director of the unit.
“In the event that chikungunya arrives on the island, we will respond by aerial applications of chemicals to kill the adult mosquitoes in an attempt to interrupt the transmission cycle,” he said.
Dr. William Petrie, director of the mosquito research and control program said, “Yes, we’re very much aware of chikungunya and the fact that it has spread through the eastern Caribbean, and is spreading through the islands, and we anticipate that we may well get the virus. We are more fortunate that we are somewhat isolated.
“We inspect yards and premises for any of the mosquito breeding, which [only happens] around human habitations. We have teams of workers who will have a map of an area, and inspect if there is any breeding,” added Dr. Petrie.
In the meantime, the Mosquito Research and Control Unit is working on a new technique to use aircraft to treat containers harboring mosquito larvae and the team remains optimistic. “Although there is not much we can do to prevent the spread of the virus in the Caribbean, we are optimistic that we do have the resources to minimize the transmission of the disease if it arrives in Cayman,” said Mr. Wheeler.
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 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.
The public travel clinic is in the Public Health Services department of the Cayman Islands Hospital. Call 244–2648 for more information.