October 6, 2014

Chikungunya is not a joke

The World Health Organization, CDC, Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and other disease-monitoring agencies have had their hands full recently. Ebola has been their priority. But a mosquito-borne viral disease, chikungunya, deserves more name recognition and media coverage, especially if you plan to travel to any Caribbean island soon.

The disease causes severe and debilitating joint pain and fever and is especially dangerous to those over 65. The actual name of the disease means "bended and twisted over." PAHO's most recent count reported 113 deaths attributed to chikungunya in St. Martin since it first appeared there in December 2013.

I first posted about this disease with the funny name in May, months after hearing about it when we were in St. Lucia and it had affected some folks nearby in St. Martin. But by now it has been reported in more than 738,000 individuals in almost all of the Caribbean islands. 19,000 new cases in the Dominican Republic alone, according to the University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease Research. 

Fellow sailing enthusiasts now in Grenada posted that it is very prevalent now in their community. One said "I am nearly bathing in DEET in the past few weeks." She also repeated the oft quoted phrase that "chikungunya may not kill you but you'll wish you were dead when it doubles you over in pain."

And locally acquired cases in Florida too. Broward County, home to Fort Lauderdale, just reported its first locally acquired chikungunya case on September 19. The case apparently marks the 10th indigenous case in the continental United States, all of them in Florida.

Not to be an alarmist, but that fits my definition of "epidemic." The symptoms usually appear three to seven days after being bitten. So use more DEET products if you travel to the areas below, especially during daytime hours when this particular mosquito bites.