Chikungunya cases surpass 100,000!

Travellers to the Caribbean need to listen up! Watch out for mosquitoes carrying chikungunya virus.

What? Who ever heard of chikungunya fever? It was always in Southeast Asia, but now it is in the Americas in a big way.

In just the past 5 months, the number of cases of chikungunya fever in the Caribbean and South American continent has grown from the initial case to a total of 103,018 suspected and 4,406 laboratory-confirmed chikungunya cases. Local transmission of this virus has been identified in some of the best tourist destinations in the Caribbean or South America. The 18 countries or territories that are seriously affected include Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, British Virgin Islands, Dominica, Dominican Republic, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guyana, Haiti, Martinique, Puerto Rico, Saint Barthelemy, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Martin, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Saint Maarten.

Just to make the point that you can become infected and you can carry the disease home, there have been 26 cases of this infection reported in the USA in returning travellers. While most of the cases have been in travellers returning to Florida (16 cases), other states reporting isolated cases include Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Maryland, Nevada, New York and Virginia.

There is no vaccine or treatment for this virus. Although it is not usually fatal, it is certainly uncomfortable with fever, headache and serious joint and muscle pains. These pains can be quite debilitating for months and may have long lasting health consequences. Travellers to areas where chikungunya fever virus is active can reduce their risk of exposure to this virus by taking all necessary precautions to avoid mosquito bites. Many persons with chikungunya fever do not seek medical care and are not reported to health authorities. There may be many more cases in these communities that are not reported.

So take your insect repellent if travelling in the Caribbean; be sure to sleep in places where mosquitoes can’t get in, e.g., air conditioned hotel rooms or under mosquito bed nets, and wear long sleeves, pants and socks when possible.