St. Martin is not a vacation destination. The Centers for Disease Control, (CDC), has confirmed reports of an outbreak of chikungunya virus, a mosquito-borne virus originally seen in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Pacific. United States health officials have issued a travel advisory for the French island in the Eastern Caribbean. The Dutch side of the island, named St. Maarten, has not reported any cases of chikungunya virus as of yet.
There have been ten confirmed cases of the virus in St. Martin. It does not appear to have been brought by residents who have traveled away from home, but rather by those visiting from affected countries. There are signs that the type of mosquito that carries the virus has been seen in several western hemisphere locations.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sent out a health advisory to doctors in the United States to consider chikungunya infection in patients with acute onset of fever and joint pain, “especially those who have recently traveled to the Caribbean.”
The illness is not usually fatal, however, symptoms include painful arthritic joints, rash, a high fever and headache. The name chikungunya means “that which bends up,” in the Kimako language of the people of Mozambique. The name describes the physical reaction of the patient to chikungunya. The course of the virus is short, usually only a week or two, but there is no cure or medicine to avoid its symptoms. In some cases, symptoms last for up to three weeks.
For those who plan to vacation in St. Martin, it is advised that long-sleeved shirts and pants should be worn, as well as to bring along some insect repellant. St. Martin is not considered a desirable vacation destination until the mosquitos can be controlled and the outbreak is studied by health authorities.
Local government is taking the threat seriously, as they have already had cases of dengue fever. Dengue fever symptoms occur after the virus has been transmitted to the human host, and an incubation time of between five to eight days; when the virus multiplies. Symptoms of the disease then appear suddenly and include high fever, chills, headache, pain and redness of the eyes, enlarged lymph nodes, flush of the face, lower back pain, extreme weakness, and severe aches in the legs and joints.
St. Martin’s health officials have been controlling mosquito populations by keeping stagnant waters to a minimum around the island and have been asking for the cooperation of islanders to keep their lands clear of standing water where mosquitos might breed. The double danger of chikungunya and dengue fever have alerted the islanders to keep breeding grounds to a minimum.
Both dengue fever and the chikungunya virus are spread by the same type of mosquito. This is the first time that the virus has been reported in the Americas, and so the CDC will be continuing to pay close attention to its spread by those traveling to these spots from the affected nations.
Meanwhile, Health Minister Ronnie W. Skelton stated that there does not seem to be any cases of the chikungunya virus in the rest of the Caribbean islands.
For now, St. Martin is not on the list of appealing vacation destinations. Taking precautions such as keeping the skin covered, using mosquito repellant and utilizing air conditioning instead of open windows should keep travelers out of harm’s way. With health officials busy controlling the mosquito population, the chances of contracting chikungunya will be kept to a minimum.
By Lisa M Pickering