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Chikungunya illnesses confirmed in Haiti

Health Minister Florence Guillaume Duperval has announced that confirmed cases of chikungunya have been found in Haiti, ABC reports in a May 7 story. A total of 14 cases are known. The spread of this mosquito borne illness to Haiti had been expected since the disease was found in the Dominican Republic in early April. The two nations share the island of Hispaniola in the central Caribbean.

Small map of Haiti
CDC / public domain

Chikungunya has spread through the islands of the eastern Caribbean since it was first detected on French St. Martin in Dec. 2013. The discovery of the illness in the Dominican Republic and in Haiti represents an increased threat to Puerto Rico, and to the U.S. mainland. Haiti, however, is where the chikungunya outbreak may become the most serious.

In Jan. 2010, a massive earthquake in Haiti destroyed much of the nation. The country has struggled to restore basic services including health care. Existing infectious diseases were joined by cholera in the Fall of 2010. The appearance of chikungunya only adds to the burdens on a resource-poor medical system.

Haiti has the highest incidence of tuberculosis in the Western Hemisphere. The earthquake destroyed most of the facilities for treating the illness and forced patients into crowded refugee camps. The Centers for Disease Control are especially concerned with the emergence of multi-drug resistant strains of tuberculosis.

HIV infections, leading to AIDS, remain a significant concern in Haiti. With weakened immune systems, HIV patients are vulnerable to co-morbid infections such as tuberculosis. The U.S. State Department reports that some 52,000 patients received free HIV treatment with antiretrovirals in 2013. Most importantly, the number of pregnant women with HIV being treated to prevent transmission of the virus to their children continued to increase.

Cholera continues to be a major infectious disease problem in Haiti. The Pan American Health Organization reports that from Oct. 2010 through March 10, 2014, there have been 700,541 cholera cases and 8,546 cholera deaths. From Jan. 1 to March 10, 2014, Haiti has seen 3,850 cases and 18 deaths.

Other illnesses are also taking a toll in the impoverished nation. Dengue fever, malaria, leishmaniasis and rabies are everyday risks that the people of Haiti are exposed to. The arrival of chikungunya, while not a deadly illness, will only add to the daily problems of Haiti's population.

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