Health officials announced another confirmed case of mosquito-borne virus chikungunya on Wednesday, bringing the total number of cases to seven in Cayman.
Since June 25, when the chikungunya virus was first reported in Cayman, 46 cases have been investigated, with test results revealing seven positive cases, 26 negative, and two inconclusive.
The latest confirmed case involves a George Town resident who is believed to have contracted the virus in Jamaica. The resident began showing symptoms of the debilitating virus on Sept. 13 after returning home from Jamaica, where 19 cases have been reported, according to the Caribbean Public Health Agency.
The resident is no longer considered infectious as it has been more than a week since the onset of symptoms, said officials in a release.
Chikungunya is transmitted by Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that bite an infected person and then bite another person, passing on the virus. It is not passed directly from human to human.
Only one of the seven cases in Cayman was acquired locally, health officials said.
Blood samples for 10 new suspected cases were also sent for testing at the Caribbean Public Health Agency in Trinidad on Sept. 22, according to the release.
“We cannot afford to become complacent. We will continue to have imported cases as we are in the midst of the regional outbreak,” said Dr. Kiran Kumar, medical officer of health.
According to health officials, 10,972 cases of chikungunya have been reported in the Caribbean, along with 690,309 suspected cases.
Local scientist Gerardo Ochoa-Vargas explored the development and spread of chikungunya in the Caribbean region at a lecture on emerging diseases at St. Matthew’s University on Wednesday night.
“From Asia, chikungunya virus arrived to St. Martin by the late 2013. Currently, it is found in 50 countries/territories in this continent,” said Dr. Ochoa-Vargas.
“In a world in crisis, emerging diseases are becoming not unusual, but every day occurrences,” hesaid. “Emerging diseases are new diseases, or those that are new in a territory where they were not found before, and also those that were already rare, almost eradicated, and come back.”
“As of Sept. 19, 2014, there have been 9,537 autochthonous (locally occurring) cases, including 113 deaths,” he added.
Dr. Ochoa-Vargas also touched upon dengue fever, which is a similar mosquito-borne virus spread by the same type of mosquito that carries the chikungunya virus. “Dengue is emerging mostly due to the expansion of the territory of its vector, the Aedes genus, mosquitoes that are vectors of many other diseases, chikungunya included,” he said.
Dr. Ochoa-Vargas also mentioned there had been “promising results on a vaccine” for dengue, which should become available as early as next year.
He said there are multiple causes for emerging diseases today, which include: international tourism, natural disasters, overcrowding, drug resistance, changes in land use, poverty, intentional dispersion of germs as bio-weapons.
Fighting back on emergent diseases is not just in the hands of the healthcare professionals, he pointed out. “The scoutmaster, the school teacher, the sport team coach, the mentoring program, the social club even, can make a difference. They will not directly fight emergent diseases, granted, but they will create conditions that will dampen their expansion, promote their control and, with some hope, stop some of them,” he said.
As well as dengue and chikungunya, diseases that are now present in the Caribbean, Dr. Ochoa-Vargas also touched on the subject of Ebola hemorrhagic fever – an infectious and generally fatal disease marked by fever and severe internal bleeding. According to Dr. Ochoa-Vargas, as of Sept, 22, there have been 5,843 cases of Ebola, including 2,803 deaths, in five African countries. There have been no reports of Ebola occurring outside Africa.
The disease is caused by one of five different Ebola viruses. Four of the strains can cause severe illness in humans and animals. Dr. Ochoa-Vargas believes the virus was spread to humans, “most likely … from apes.”
“Many pathogens can be easily spread to humans due to the fact that they infect apes. We share 96 percent similarity with chimpanzees, so there is a common susceptibility and connection to pathogens,” he said.
The virus can be transmitted from human to human through direct contact with body fluids from an infected person or contaminated objects.