Chikungunya Outbreak in the Caribbean – The Facts

If you are headed to the Carribbean anytime soon you may have heard or be concerned about the outbreak of the Chikungunya.

This virus was first reported as an outbreak in the region by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in December 2013. This blog aims to separate fact from fiction using information provided by the WHO, so you can enjoy your holiday safe in the knowledge you are doing all you can to stay protected.

Chikungunya (Chikv for short) is a virus spread from human to human through the bite of infected Aedes Aegypti and Aedes Albopictus mosquitos. As of February 2015, there have been 1,176,216 reported cases and 182 deaths in the Caribbean & North, Central and South America. As you can gather from the statistics, Chikv is usually self-limiting and the vast majority of sufferers will recover after a few days.

Chikv has been reported as an outbreak with local transmission in the following regions:

Central, North and South America

Belize, Bermuda, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, United States (US), Venezuela

Caribbean Islands

Aruba, Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Curacao, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Haiti,  Jamaica,  Martinique, Montserrat,  Puerto Rico,  Saint-Barthélemy,  Saint Kitts and Nevis,  Saint Lucia, Saint Martin, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines,  Sint Maarten,  Trinidad & Tobago, Turks and Caicos, US Virgin Islands

Chikv is also present in Africa, Asia and the Indian subcontinent at low levels all year round.

The somewhat complicated name, Chikungunya, is actually derived from a Tanzanian language where the first ever recorded outbreak of this virus occurred in 1952. Chikungunya roughly translated means ‘to contort’ or ‘to stoop’ which describes the appearance of suffers who may complain of debilitating joint pain or aches.

Symptoms tend to last 2-3 days but joint pain can sometimes last for months or even years. Typical symptoms include:

  • Rapid onset fever
  • Joint pain
  • Muscle pain
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Rash

Sometimes symptoms are so mild, cases go unrecognised.

Serious complications are not common but the elderly frail and very young may be susceptible.

There is no cure for Chikv. Treatment is supportive and includes use of pain killers and taking plenty of rest. Most sufferers will make a full and complete recovery after 2-3 days.

At present, there is no vaccine to prevent Chikv and the best way to stay protected is to avoid mosquito bites. The mosquitos responsible for transmission of Chikv bite mainly during daylight hours with a peak in activity during the early morning and late afternoon (dusk and dawn). Taking antimalarial medication will NOT prevent you from contracting Chikv as malaria is caused by a parasite which is completely different to the Chikv virus.

Use of insect repellents containing DEET at concentrations above 20% applied regularly (over the top of sunscreen) should deter any mosquitos from biting. Good choices include: Jungle Formula Maximum Strength Body Spray and Jungle Formula Maximum Strength Insect Repellent Pump Spray.

Furthermore, wearing clothing which covers as much skin as possible and using mosquito nets in non-air-conditioned accommodation will help to prevent getting bitten. A good mosquito net is the Pyramid Mosinet Pop-Up Mosquito Net – as it effectively provides ideal protection against mosquitos and other biting insects.

The risk of getting bitten by Chikv infected mosquitos rises if you are close to a mosquito breeding site. Close proximity to water left to stand stagnant including water filled containers and ponds will increase your likelihood of contracting the virus. Such places should be treated by the authorities to eradicate the mosquitos or avoided during your holiday.

You can find more information on Chikv on the WHO website

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