Chikungunya, commonly known as CHIKV, has entered 26 Caribbean countries and “it is spreading at one country per week”, Dr James Hospedales, executive director of the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), said yesterday.
Chikungunya is a viral disease which is spread by the dreaded aedes aegypti mosquito, which also spreads dengue fever. It is characterised by severe pains in the joints. In the dialect of a tribe in East Africa, CHIKV, means “that which bends you up.”
Asked to give an update on the status of CHIKV, Hospedales, in a telephone interview yesterday, said: “The Ministry of Health has confirmed three people got CHIKV based on the lab tests at CARPHA. It is spreading at one country a week. What has been predicted for some time has come to pass because 26 Caribbean countries have reported cases since it entered in December last year. It recently got into the big islands like Haiti and Dominican Republic. It is in Guyana, Suriname and Venezuela.”
Hospedales confirmed there have been three cases locally. On Sunday, in newspaper advertisements, Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan confirmed there were three cases of chikungunya infection locally. The release also called upon the population to practise protective measures, including wearing loose-fitting clothing and getting rid of old tyres.
On the eve of World Health Day (WHO), at a CHIKV sensitisation conference (April 6) at CARPHA’s headquarters at Federation Park, Port of Spain, Hospedales had said although “there were “no reported cases yet,” it was important to be on high alert since some French, English and Dutch-speaking Caribbean countries had reported cases.
But now it has entered here, Hospedales also said it was important to keep chikungunya from spreading rapidly by keeping one’s surroundings immaculately clean. Another necessary intervention is to follow the checklist which is posted on the website at www.carpha.com to get rid of the mosquito’s breeding sites.
He added: “Take ten minutes and clean up everything that is a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Clean up water drums and areas for storing water. Go to the CARPHA website and walk around with the graphic to clean up your home.”
Offering some advice to people who believe they might have contracted CHIKV, Hospedales said:” If people find they have fever and joint pains that are similar to the CHIKV symptoms, then, they have to seek urgent medical attention. Make use of insect repellant. Stay under bed nets.”
Asked about the mortality rate for people who have contracted CHIKV, Hospedales said: “It is rarely fatal.”
But Hospedales said there were cases where people with pre-existing health problems like diabetes and heart disease had died after contracting it.
Comparing CHIKV to dengue, Hospedales said: “People experience severe joint pains. That’s the distinguishing feature of CHIKV. Dengue does not have swollen joint pains. But a person who has contracted CHIKV can have joint pains for months. In parts of Africa and India, a significant percentage of people experience excruciating joint pain that goes on for months.”
Attempts to contact Khan on his mobile and an alternative mobile number proved futile.
About CHIKV (chikungunya)
Symptoms include a sudden high fever, severe pain in the wrists, ankles, knuckles, muscle pain, headache, nausea and rash. Joint pain and stiffness are more common with chikungunya than with dengue. Symptoms appear between four and seven days after the bite of an infected mosquito. The majority of clinical signs and symptoms last three to ten days, but joint pain may persist longer. Severe cases requiring hospitalisation are rare. There is no vaccine or treatment for CHIKV, which has affected millions of people. There is no vaccine or treatment, which has infected millions of people in Africa and Asia since the disease was first recorded in 1952.