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Chikungunya spreading in eastern Caribbean

At least 131 cases of chikungunya have now been confirmed in patients living in the eastern Caribbean, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control in their report for the week ending Jan. 4. The mosquito-borne viral illness has been found on both the Dutch and French sides of the island of St. Martin, and on the islands of Guadeloupe, Saint Barthélemy and Martinique. One case, in a traveler from Martinique, has been diagnosed in French Guyana.

French Caribbean islands reporting cases of chikungunya
Charles Simmins, using public domain image

Chikungunya produces an illness similar to dengue, and can be mistaken for dengue. It is transmitted from person to person by the same mosquito species that transmit dengue, Aedes aegypti (the yellow fever mosquito) and Aedes albopictus (the Asian tiger mosquito). The Centers for Disease Control describe chikungunya symptoms as:

a debilitating illness, most often characterized by fever, headache, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, muscle pain, rash, and joint pain... The prolonged joint pain associated with chikungunya virus is not typical of dengue.

The mosquito species that act as a vector for the transmission of chikungunya are found throughout South and Central America, including Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands. They are also found in the southern United States, with the Asian tiger mosquito found as far north as Long Island and New York City in the summer. In 2013, locally acquired cases of dengue were found in south Texas, southern Florida and on Long Island, demonstrating the potential for the spread of chikungunya to the United States.

The CDC issued an updated travel notice for travelers to the Caribbean, particularly St. Martin and Martinique on Dec. 31. It contains information about preventing mosquito bites. There is no cure for chikungunya and no vaccine.

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