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Chikungunya cases now over 2,100 in eastern Caribbean

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The outbreak of chikungunya illnesses in the Caribbean continued to grow, according to the weekly report by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) released Feb. 14. Combined with local media reports quoting government sources, the total number of confirmed and probable cases of this mosquito borne illness has reached 2,115. That is an increase of 662 illnesses in the last week.

The French islands of the Antilles continue to be the center of the chikungunya epidemic. Martinique is especially hard hit, with 844 cases and a 63 percent increase in illnesses in the last week. The French side of St. Martin has now reported 653 cases and the smaller island of St. Barts 270. Guadeloupe has reported 253 chikungunya cases.

The Dutch side of St. Martin has reported 65 cases while English-speaking Dominica has 13. Aruba, Anguilla and French Guyana are seeing imported cases thus far. The British Virgin islands reported no new cases this week, and six for the entire outbreak. There have bee no confirmed locally acquired chikungunya cases on the mainland.

Chikungunya (CHIKV) is a viral illness spread human-to-human through the bite of a mosquito. Until early Dec. 2013, it had never been been locally acquired in the Western Hemisphere. The illness was first discovered in French St. Martin and has spread from there.

Fox News discussed the potential for chikungunya to spread to the United States in an article on Feb. 11. Dr. Laura Harrington, a professor of entomology at Cornell University, told Fox "We definitely should be concerned." The mosquitoes that carry the virus, Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, are already found in the United States. There is no vaccine for chikungunya and no cure.

Winter vacations, Caribbean cruises and upcoming spring break trips will be affected by the chikungunya outbreak to some extent. The Centers for Disease Control updated its watch for CHIKV on Feb. 6. The Public Health Agency of Canada updated its travel health notice on Feb. 12. Neither agency is urging travel restrictions at this time. Both suggest that preventing mosquito bites is the best strategy for preventing chikungunya. Mosquito repellents and the use of screens and netting in buildings are among their suggestions.

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