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US issues Chikungunya virus travel alert after more cases detected in Caribbean
Beat that bug! Health Minister Fuad Khan has urged T&T communities to maintain vigilence to eradicate mosquitoes and ensure the mosquito-borne chikungunya virus—now in 20 Caribbean islands and some US states—doesn’t surface here. Noting that T&T is among a few regional territories that is free of the painful virus, Khan said: “We can’t afford to be complacent. Ensuring your surroundings don’t harbour stagnant water and mosquitoes is key.”
Khan was commenting on news reports over the weekend that the viral illness has surfaced across the United States “carried by recent travelers to the Caribbean where it was reported that the virus is raging”. Atlanta’s Centre for Disease Control (CDC) is advising US travelers to the Caribbean protect themselves from mosquito bites. The warning was issued at the start of the summer vacation period when travel to the region increases.
The virus is transmitted by Aedes Egypti mosquitoes who may bite infected persons. There is no vaccine. While the virus does not typically lead to death, conditions can become debilitating. Symptoms can become emphasized and dangerous for adults over 65, newborns and individuals who already have health issues like diabetes, heart disease or high blood pressure. Most common symptoms are fever and joint pain as well as headache, muscle pain, joint swelling, or rash. Joint pain can take up to a few months or longer for full recovery.
The Caribbean Public Health Agency (Carpha) last week reported that the number of confirmed and suspected cases rose to 135,651, up from just over 100,000 on June 2. The virus has been detected in 20 Caribbean countries and territories, with the largest outbreak in the Dominican Republic.
Carpha said travelers to the following Caribbean islands are at risk of getting chikungunya: Anguilla, Antigua, British Virgin Island, Dominica, Dominican Republic, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guyana, Haiti, Martinique, Puerto Rico, Saint Barthelemy, Saint Kitts, Saint Lucia, St Martin, St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Maarten (Dutch) The Dominican Republic has had more than 77,000 suspected cases since January, including 20,000 new suspected cases in the last week.
Confirmed cases were reported in North Carolina, Nebraska and Indiana last week. Florida with 25 cases has the majority in the US, according to the CDC. Khan said his Ministry has been working over the last eight months with other local bodies to keep on top of the situation:
“The reason T&T hasn’t gotten Chikungunya yet is because a lot of work is being done by agencies, including the Insect Vector Unit and others, to try to control mosquito spread. “T&T can stay free of this if we keep doing the right things…Use insect repellant or citronella oil. Check water storage units or your plants daily. If necessary, call the Insect Vector Control Unit and they’ll come and spray,” he added.
Travelers to Africa, Asia, and islands in the Indian Ocean and Western Pacific are also at risk as the virus is present in many of these areas.
The mosquito that carries the chikungunya virus can bite during the day and night, both indoors and outdoors. It often lives around buildings in urban areas. Symptoms surface within three to seven days after a bite from an infected mosquito and typically dissipate within a week. The following precautions should be taken against the virus:
• Cover exposed skin by wearing long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and hats.
• Use an appropriate insect repellent as directed.
• Stay and sleep in screened or air conditioned rooms.
• Use a bed net if the area where you are sleeping is exposed to the outdoors.