Thursday, October 23, 2014

A look at the chikungunya virus in the Caribbean

A look at the chikungunya virus and its spread in Latin America and the Caribbean

Posted on July 3, 2014 at 12:00 a.m. | Updated on July 3, 2014 at 12:02 a.m.

A look at the inroads by the chikungunya virus in Latin America and the Caribbean:

— WHAT IT IS: The name chikungunya comes from the Makonde language of Tanzania. It translates as “that which bends up,” referring to arthritis-like aches in joints that cause sufferers to contort with pain. The virus is spread by two mosquitoes, aedes aegypti and aedes albopictus, both of which also transmit dengue fever.

— WHAT IT DOES: Symptoms typically appear three to seven days after a mosquito bite and can include high fever, pain in the joints and back, and severe headache. Many sufferers can barely walk. It is rarely fatal, though there have been deaths among the elderly and people with other illnesses. Symptoms typically last about five days, but in some cases joint pain lasts for months or even years.

— WHAT CAN BE DONE: There is no specific treatment or vaccine. People with the virus should rest, drink large amounts of fluids and take acetaminophen to reduce fever and pain. The best strategy is to avoid being bitten by a mosquito, so authorities have stepped up pesticide spraying in the region.

— WHERE IT IS FOUND: The virus has been known for decades in Africa and Asia, but the first locally transmitted case in the Western Hemisphere was documented in late 2013 in French St. Martin. There have since been more than 260,000 suspected and confirmed locally transmitted cases throughout the Caribbean and in parts of Central and South America. The Dominican Republic has reported the most with more than 135,000 cases, followed by Guadaloupe and Haiti, each with around 40,000. The number of cases in Haiti, though, is likely much higher. There have been cases of the virus being contracted by visitors to the region from many other countries, including the U.S.

— WHY IT IS SO BAD IN HAITI: Many people in Haiti live in flimsy houses and have little protection from mosquitoes. There is a lot of standing water that creates breeding sites for mosquitoes.

Source: Pan American Health Organization

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