For those seeking to venture to the Caribbean, the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control are urging travelers to the Caribbean to take caution of a newly found mosquito-borne virus called chikungunya. According to reports, there are approximately 4000 known cases of the virus found in various Caribbean countries in recent weeks.
The chikungunya virus was first detected as early as last December on the Caribbean island of Saint Marten and has quickly spread to many vacation destination spots at a rate of one new country a week in places like British Virgin Islands, Saint Barthelemy, Guadeloupe, Anguilla, and Saint Maarten. The french colonies in the Caribbean are said to have been the hardest hit with the virus. As recent and April, Barbuda, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Antigua have just been added to the list of those now afflicted with chikungunya. The total number reported of the virus collectively reaching across the Caribbean is cited at 31,000 according to health industry officials. The CDC is cautioning travelers to other parts of the globe including Asia, Africa and the Western Pacific to take warning as the risk of contracting the chikungunya virus is also evident in these areas.
Health care professionals say that travelers who contract the virus will experience flu-like symptoms including fever, swollen joints, muscle aches and in some instances a rash. Symptoms will generally last as long as two weeks but health reports are indicating that joint pains associated with the chikungunya virus could last much longer. As for fatalities associated with the virus, there have been six reported cases in Dominican Republic, the 15th Caribbean nation to have the virus found on its shores. Healthcare professionals caution that those most vulnerable of succumbing to the virus are the very young, the very old and those with compromised immune systems. Haiti is the latest country awaiting confirmation if they will add chikungunya to there already burgeoning problems.
The mosquito that carries the chikungunya virus has been identified as the Aedes aegypti mosquito which also is known to transmit the very common and often fatal dengue fever. The mosquito strikes during the day and night and is known to be found in urban areas. With no vaccine available, travelers are urged to take caution when traveling to the Caribbean. The CDC is instructing visitors to the islands to wear insect repellent, not wear clothing that exposes arms and legs and to sleep surrounded by mosquito netting.
As the virus continues to spread, worried vector controllers and public health officials admit that they are unsuccessful at stopping the eminent spread but are doing what they can to at least slow it down. Authorities are working on a method of trying to contain the pesky mosquitos which could not only make people sick but could also sicken the tourist industry. With so much of the region’s economy reliant on travelers flocking to their sunny and sandy islands for their holiday getaways, further outbreaks found of the chikungunya virus will caution vacationers to stay away and could cause very significant and detrimental financial loses in the Caribbean islands.
By Hal Banfield