Just days after health officials put Cayman under a high alert for a chikungunya outbreak, a suspected case of the mosquito-borne virus has emerged, prompting mosquito control officers to target an area of George Town Thursday.
This is the first suspected case of the virus reported in the Cayman Islands. The debilitating mosquito-borne virus has spread rapidly through the Caribbean since it first emerged in the region in December 2013.
According to Cayman public health officials, a George Town resident returned from vacation in a Caribbean Island where the virus has been reported on Sunday, June 22, and was admitted to the Cayman Islands hospital three days later after she began feeling joint pains – a typical symptom of the illness.
“We had a patient who traveled to one of the countries where chikungunya is going on, and when she came back [to Cayman] she felt joint pain and had a fever, so naturally we admitted her [to the hospital],” said Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kiran Kumar.
On Thursday morning, MRCU staff in protective gear carried out precautionary anti-mosquito fogging treatments at the patient’s home in the area of George Town known as “Swamp.” They also took mosquito larvae samples from the site.
The director of the Mosquito Research and Control Unit, Dr. William Petrie said, “As far as this morning’s operation was concerned, it was a precautionary measure as there is an investigation pending by Public Health for a possible case of either chikungunya or dengue fever.” “From MRCU’s point of view, we’ve taken a proactive approach – it just made sense because it could turn out to be a case of either, so we’re taking precautionary measures in the particular area … If it does turn out to be chikungunya or dengue, at least we’ve treated that area,” he added.
Quick action on eradicating Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in an area where a case of chikungunya or dengue has been reported is necessary to prevent the virus from spreading, Dr. Kumar explained.
“There is a possibility some mosquitoes might have bitten her,” Dr. Kumar said of the patient. “However, it needs 10 days for this mosquito to be infective to others. Hence the Mosquito Research and Control Unit taking additional measures for control of adult mosquitoes in that area…”
The virus is contracted from the bite of a Aedes aegypti mosquito that has already bitten an infected person. It is not spread from human to human, but rather through a human-to-mosquito-to-human pathway. Dr. Kumar said more suspected cases may occur as people may not realize they have the symptoms because their onset is gradual.
“We know of this possible case, there may be someone who may have mild symptoms and may not see a doctor – hence we will never know which mosquito has dengue virus or chikungunya virus …,” he said.
Both dengue and chikungunya viruses can be spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito and the diseases have similar symptoms.
According to the Pan American Health Organization, there have been 4,600 confirmed cases of chikungunya and more than 160,000 suspected cases in the Caribbean region as of June. Health authorities in Cayman’s near neighbor of Cuba also recently confirmed six cases of the virus.
Symptoms and protection
Public Health officials have sent the Cayman patient’s blood work off island for further testing at a Caribbean Public Health Agency lab in Trinidad. Until the results of those tests are known, officials could not confirm if the patient definitely has chikungunya.
In the meantime, health officials are advising residents to protect themselves against mosquito bites.
“Since there is always a possibility that some people may come to the island with dengue or chikungunya, we should be careful and protect ourselves, especially in the evening time,” said Dr. Kumar.
“Mosquito control will do their part of it, but we have to do our part of it,” he said.
He advises residents to wear long sleeved shirts when out at night for extended hours, to empty any water containers outside their homes as water can serve as a breeding site, to use mosquito screens in homes, and to use mosquito repellent.
Aedes aegypti mosquitos tend to be found around domestic dwellings and breeds in water-filled flower pots, discarded tyres, sandboxes, plastic bags, loose tarps and other items found in a household yard or porch.
Symptoms of chikungunya 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.
Anyone experiencing these symptoms and who feels they may have been bitten by an infected mosquito is advised to contact the Public Health Department on 244-2621.