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Protecting the troops at Guantanamo from chikungunya

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Lost among the reports of the tens of thousands of cases of chikungunya in the Caribbean are the American soldiers, sailors and Marines stationed or deployed to the region. Stacey Byington. public affairs officer for the U.S. Naval Hospital Guantanamo Bay answered some questions by e-mail June 6 about how the base is reacting to the outbreak.

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Ms. Byington states that no cases of dengue or chikungunya have been treated by her hospital at this time. The Navy hospital has a "very aggressive Preventive Medicine Department" which monitors the mosquito population aboard Naval Station Guantanamo Bay. The surveillance is most intense from May through October, where activities take place at least twice a month.

The Armed Forces Pest Management Board, Byington states, provides the direction for how the base military identifies, surveys, and controls mosquito species. The Navy Entomology Center of Excellence provides the training to personnel in the use of control measures.

The yellow fever mosquito, Aedes aegypti, is native to the island of Cuba. It is the mosquito vector currently transmitting chikungunya and dengue in the region. The Anopheles species of mosquito which carries malaria is also found on the island. Mosquito control and mosquito bite prevention are key to preventing mosquito borne illnesses.

Chikungunya is new to the Americas, have been discovered for the first time in Dec. 2013. Dengue, a mosquito borne illness which can prove fatal, has been epidemic world wide for over a decade. Malaria has reemerged in the Americas as the use of pesticides and the funding for civilian mosquito control programs has been reduced.

Mr. Jose Ruiz, a media relations officer in the Public Affairs Office for U.S. Southern Command described part of the process when troops are sent to the Caribbean in a June 6 e-mail:

All personnel are also given a pre-deployment briefing on health threats by qualified medical personnel to inform them of known health risks and all appropriate measures to guard against them. They are also issued supplies and equipment as necessary to protect against harmful exposures.

While many think of the terrorist detention facility when Guantanamo Bay is discussed, Naval Station Guantanamo Bay is a much larger facility with many other duties. Over six thousand military and civilian personnel live and work aboard the 45 square mile base. The base allows family members to accompany their loved ones in the service, and provides schooling and job opportunities for these family members.

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