Mosquito-borne virus poses threat to Caribbean travelers - Eagle-Tribune: News

Mosquito-borne virus poses threat to Caribbean travelers

Print
Font Size:
Default font size
Larger font size

Posted: Sunday, July 20, 2014 12:05 am

After a trip the Dominican Republic or elsewhere in the Caribbean, you return home suffering with a high fever, horrible joint pain, headache and fatigue.

Only a blood test will prove it, but you could have chikungunya (chik-en-gun-ye), a viral disease spread by mosquitoes.

Infections of the virus, which cannot be transmitted from human to human, continue to rise in the Caribbean — particularly in the Dominican Republic, a country from which many Lawrence residents hail and regularly travel to and from.

Some 28,000 new cases of the chikungunya virus were recorded in the Dominican Republic this past week adding to 135,000 cases documented in the country earlier in the month, according to figures released by the Pan American Health Organization.

Back here in Lawrence, one case of the virus has been documented locally at the Greater Lawrence Family Health Center at 34 Haverhill St., said Dr. Geoffrey Pechinsky, medical director there.

The Lawrence case is one of 350 chikungunya cases documented throughout the United States. Just two have been pinpointed here in Massachusetts, with 121 cases in Puerto Rico and the rest elsewhere in the continental U.S., said Pechinsky, pointing to weekly statistics posted on July 15 by the Centers for Disease Control.

While there is no danger of catching the virus from a person with it here, those traveling to the Caribbean are at significant risk of being infected by a mosquito there. Travelers often take advantage of Caribbean travel during off-season summer months.

“That’s the biggest thing. Somebody who is traveling needs to be aware and take precautions,” said Pechinsky.

While chikungunya is a new term around here, outbreaks of the virus have occurred previously in Africa, Southern Europe, Southeast Asia and in islands in the Indian and Pacific oceans. In late 2012, chikungunye was found in the Caribbean for the first time, according to information provided by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

Mosquitoes in Massachusetts are not the kind which carry the chikungunya virus, explained Dr. Catherine Brown, a state public health veterinarian.

Brown said there is “some evidence” mosquitoes from tropical climates were transported by businesses specialized in used tires. Even so, “those mosquitoes cannot survive our winters” here, she said.

“But there is certainly a risk for people traveling to the Caribbean,” Brown said.

Symptoms of the virus generally flare three to seven days after a mosquito bite. Common symptoms are fever, severe joint pain and swelling particularly in the hands and feet, headache, muscle pain and rash. Treatments include rest, Tylenol and fluids, including IV fluids for those who become dehydrated, doctors said.

“It is not something that is fatal. In a week or so, most everyone gets better,” Pechinsky said.

Brown said documenting cases of the virus in Massachusetts is tricky. While the number of cases diagnosed in the state is “actually very low,” Brown said “it’s very likely” there are more people in Massachusetts that have suffered from the virus then health officials know.

In order for chikungunya cases to be documented, persons with symptoms must see a physician and have a blood test done. If chikungunya is detected, it then has to be reported to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Depending on the severity of symptoms, some may not seek medical help or their doctors “may or may not choose to do a blood test,” Brown said.

Brown said the most pressing public health message on chikungunya goes to travelers who need to be both aware and careful.

Wearing long pants, long-sleeved shirts and socks and using a repellent with DEET, is recommended for Caribbean travelers to prevent mosquito bites. The mosquitoes bite during the day so it’s important to take precautions during daytime hours and between dusk to dawn, according to DPH reccommendations.

---

Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter @EagleTribJill.

A look at chikungunya

- Taken from a Tanzanian language, chikungunya translates to “that which bends to,” referring to joint pain that sufferers experience.

- Humans get the virus through a bite from an infected mosquito.

- Symptoms are predominantly high fever and joint pain.

- There is no specific treatment or vaccine. Rest, fluid and Tylenol ease symptoms.

- The viral disease is rarely fatal although some deaths were reported internationally in the elderly and with people with other illnesses.

- More than 260,000 chikungunya cases have been confirmed in the Carribbean and in parts of Central and South America.

Source: Pan American Health Organization

A look at chikungunya

Taken from a Tanzanian language, chikungunya translates to “that which bends to,” referring to joint pain that sufferers experience.

Humans get the virus through a bite from an infected mosquito.

Symptoms are predominantly high fever and joint pain.

There is no specific treatment or vaccine. Rest, fluid and Tylenol ease symptoms.

The viral disease is rarely fatal although some deaths were reported internationally in the elderly and with people with other illnesses.

More than 260,000 chikungunya cases have been confirmed in the Caribbean and in parts of Central and South America.

Source: Pan American Health Organization

 


To view or purchase photos, visit photos.northofboston.com.