The head of the Caribbean Public Health Authority (CARPHA), Dr James Hospedales, has declared the Chikungunya virus has reached epidemic proportions in the Caribbean. The mosquito-borne illness was first detected in the Caribbean in December 2013, in St Martin, and last week Antigua and St Vincent and the Grenadines became the latest countries to declare an outbreak.
“By definition this is an epidemic since it represents an unusual number of cases of this problem where we would never have it before,” Dr Hospedales told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC).
According to Dr Hospedales, as of April 28, there were 4,108 probable cases in 14 countries across the region. He also stated that Caribbean countries have been putting measures in place to address the spread of the virus.
“PAHO (the Pan American Health Organization) since 2012 had done a preparatory briefing, in July of last year we convened a Caribbean-wide virtual meeting of the chief officers in the countries in the labs, to highlight this emerging threat and to adjust our surveillance protocols and laboratory testing to have early detection.
“In December, once it came into the region we established an incident management team, and that has regular contact with the countries, with PAHO, with the French and so on,” Hospedales said.
Chikungunya is spread by the Aedes Egypti mosquito, which also spreads dengue fever.
Hospedales noted there are steps that can be taken to contain the disease. “Our main recommendations are to continue to educate members of the public on the current situation, and get accurate information to avoid confusion.
“It is very important to inspect homes and communities to eliminate potential vector breeding sites for the Aedes Egypti mosquito,” he said.
He also advised that people who are sick with fever and suspect they may be suffering from dengue or Chikungunya, should use an insect repellant and sleep under a mosquito net.
“This is not a severe disease, in that people don’t die from it, whereas dengue can kill you, but Chikungunya has more long term effects, a significant percent of people will have joint pains one year, two years afterwards,” Hospedales said.
To date Chikungunya virus has been confirmed in Anguilla, Aruba, Virgin Islands, Dominica, Dominican Republic, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, St Barthelemy, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Maarten (Dutch) and St Martin (French).