The Chikungunya Virus is in the Caribbean

For the first time, an outbreak of the virus that causes chikungunya fever has been reported in the western hemisphere, this time from the island of Saint Martin in the Caribbean. So far, about 20 cases have been found. Although people infected with this virus have been reported from Brazil, French Guyana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, and the USA in the past, this is the first time there has been an outbreak with local spread of this virus.

What is chikungunya?

It is a virus that spreads through mosquito bites. The most common symptoms of chikungunya are fever and joint pain while other symptoms may include headache, muscle pain, joint swelling or rash.

There are some things you should know:

  • Now that the virus is in the Caribbean, it will probably spread. No one knows how fast that will happen. The right kind of mosquito for transmitting chikungunya virus can be found from Argentina to upstate New York.
  • This infection is transmitted by a certain kind of mosquito (different than the one that transmits dengue and West Nile fever) that is often found in tropical and semi-tropical countries, especially in Southeast Asia.
  • Chikungunya fever is rarely fatal. Infected people usually experience a fever, headache, and intense pain in their joints, which can last many weeks (which is a real bummer when you are on vacation).
  • There is no treatment or vaccine.

But, by following all the precautions for avoiding mosquito bites, you can greatly reduce the chances of becoming infected. Some precautions include: cover exposed skin by wearing long-sleeved shirts, long pants and hats and use an appropriate insect repellent as directed. Remember that higher percentages of active ingredients in insect repellent means that individuals will be protected for a longer period of time.

According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, as of January 2nd, 2014, the following Caribbean islands have reported cases of chikungunya:

  • Saint Martin (French): 98 confirmed cases
  • Sint Maarten (Dutch): 1 confirmed case
  • Martinique: 13 confirmed cases; 1 case was also found in a person in French Guiana who had recently traveled from Martinique
  • Guadeloupe: 3 confirmed cases, including 1 case in a person who had recently traveled from Saint Martin
  • Saint Barthelemy: 7 confirmed cases