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Over ten thousand chikungunya cases suspected in Caribbean

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) released its "Communicable disease threats report, 23 February-01 March 2014, week 9", on Feb. 28. The spread of chikungunya in the eastern Caribbean continues, with an additional 507 probable or confirmed cases for the week and over 7,800 suspected cases. Martinique, a popular tourist and cruise destination, is reporting the highest numbers, 1,058 confirmed or probable chikungunya cases and an additional 3,940 suspected cases.

The yellow fever mosquito Aedes aegypti transmits chikungunya. Note the marking on the thorax in the form of a lyre.
James Gathany / CDC / public domain

Chikungunya is a mosquito borne viral illness first noted in East Africa in 1953. Locally acquired cases of chikungunya were unknown in the Western Hemisphere until the beginning of Dec. 2013. The first autochthonous, or locally acquired, illnesses were discovered on the French half of the Caribbean island of St. Martin. Since then, locally acquired cases have been confirmed on ten islands in the region and on the South American mainland in French Guyana.

The French-speaking islands in the Antilles are the center of the chikungunya outbreak. Through Feb. 21, they have reported 2,443 confirmed or probable cases. The Dutch side of St. Martin has confirmed 115 chikungunya cases while four English-speaking islands have confirmed 63 cases. Dutch Aruba, much farther to the west, is reporting just one imported case.

Dr. Scott Weaver, Director of the Institute for Human Infection and Immunity at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, TX, confirmed to the Houston Chronicle on Feb. 26 that there are suspected cases of chikungunya in the area of Merida, Mexico. During an telephone interview on Feb. 24 with this reporter, he mentioned that a colleague was investigating those reports. The difficulty in confirming the appearance of chikungunya on the Yucatan Peninsula, he said, was the inability to test for the illness locally. Specimens may have to be brought to Galveston for testing.