Dr James Hospedales, executive director of Caribbean Public Health Agency, said although there were “no reported cases yet” in Trinidad and Tobago, it was important to be on high alert, as some French, English and Dutch Caribbean islands have reported cases of chikungunya, a viral disease spread by the aedes aegypti mosquito.
The aedes aegypti also spreads dengue fever.
Hospedales was joined by Dr Bernadette Theodore-Gandi, PAHO/WHO (Pan American Health Organisation/World Health Organisation) representative for Trinidad and Tobago, and Dr Karen Polson-Edwards, senior technical officer, vector-borne and neglected tropical diseases at Carpha, at a conference on Friday aimed at sensitising and educating the public to chikungunya, commonly called CHIKV.
The conference at the Carpha lecture theatre, Federation Park, Port of Spain, was a precursor to World Health Day, which will be observed today.
The focus will be on highlighting the serious threat of vector-borne diseases like malaria, dengue, lyme disease and schistosomiasis, with the slogan “Small Bite: Big Threat”.
To date, a Carpha release said cases of chikungunya in the Caribbean region have been confirmed in Anguilla, Aruba, Dominica, British Virgin Islands, French Guiana, Martinique, St Barthelemy, St Kitts and Nevis, Sint Maarten (Dutch) and St Martin (French). “The total number of confirmed/probable cases has reached 3,112,” it said.
Zeroing in on the need for domestic awareness, Hospedales said: “Chikungunya is the new kid on the block. It is important to do more education and dissemination for all. It is a call for us to be alert because it could be coming here next.
“We don’t want to panic, but people have to do their part, like taking out the trash and emptying the dog dish. It is another disease spread by the aedes aegypti.
“It is marked by fever... it is similar to dengue. The big difference is people have a higher fever and more joint pains, including in the lower limbs. The joint pains and fever, in some instances, can last up to a year.
“It (chikungunya) is the language of the tribe in East Africa, which means ‘bends you up’. People are walking hobbled over with pain. In the British Virgin Islands, the doctors thought it was a new form of arthritis because the patients had a high fever,” he added.
“Although it was not here yet, we have to stay on alert. We don’t want to have to deal with it, so cover up the water drums. We don’t want to make it too welcome.”
Theodore-Gandi said: “Every year, more than one billion people are infected and more than one million die from vector-borne diseases. Within the past two decades, many important vector-borne diseases have emerged or spread to new parts of the world.
“The most common vector-borne diseases are malaria, dengue and leishmaniasis. Malaria is the deadliest vector-borne disease, that kills 1.2 million people annually, mostly African children under five years old.”
Polson-Edwards said: “Cuba was the first country to effectively control yellow fever, and this trend continued throughout the Caribbean region, where it took another 50 to 60 years for successful control or elimination of the vectors of yellow fever, dengue and malaria.
“Dengue was re-introduced in the region in the 1970s and, since then, we have not been able to achieve effective control and/or eradication.”
• Usually begin three to seven days after being bitten by a mosquito
• The most common symptoms are fever and joint pains, often in the hands and feet
• Other symptoms include headache, muscle pain, joint swelling or rash
Avoiding mosquito bites will help prevent further spread of the virus.
• Securely cover domestic water-storage containers such as buckets, barrels and drums
• Properly discard old tyres and containers that collect water, for example, bottles and cans
• Cover and seal tanks, soakaways and cisterns
• Get rid of all breeding places of the aedes aegypti mosquito like vases, flower pots, saucers, discarded toys, bottles, bottle pieces on top of walls/brick holes, roof guttering, wading/swimming pools, garden containers and tools
• Use mosquito repellents containing picaridin, oil of lemon, eucalyptus or IR3535 on exposed skin
• Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants
• Use air-conditioning, or window- and door screens
• Sleep under mosquito nets and/or use mosquito coils