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Chikungunya virus gallops across Caribbean; may hit United States

By Megan Hamilton     May 3, 2014 in Health
Oranjestad - Chikungunya virus is spread by mosquitoes and has been galloping across the Caribbean. Experts say that it's likely to hit the U.S.
This new intruder has reached epidemic proportions in the Caribbean, according to the Jamaica Observer. Chikungunya first made itself known in the Caribbean last December, when it showed up on St. Martin. More than 4,108 cases have been reported in 14 countries across the Caribbean as of the end of April. That's according to Dr. James Hospedales, who talked to the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC).
"By definition this is an epidemic since it represents an unusual number of cases of this problem where we would never have it before," Hospedales said.
Chikungunya has been confirmed in Anguilla, Aruba, Virgin Islands, Dominica, the Dominican Republican, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, St. Barthelemy, St Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucian, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Maarten (Dutch) and St. Martin (French).
Caribbean countries are taking steps to address the spread of the virus, he told the CMC. Since 2012 health officials had conducted a briefing, and in July 2013 convened a Caribbean-wide virtual meeting of the chief officials to discuss the impending threat and to improve surveillance protocols and laboratory testing to simplify early detection.
Health officials are concerned that the virus, which originated in Africa and moved to Asia, may spread to southern Florida. Travel warnings for affected areas have been issued by the CDC, which is watching for any signs of the virus in the U.S. while working with state health departments in an effort to increase awareness regarding the virus, according to WSVN.com.
The Chikungunya virus is spread by the mosquitoes Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus and the disease could gain a foothold via infected travelers who return home to the U.S. thus introducing the virus into A aegypti and A albopictus populations when bitten by the insects, Erin Staples, MD, PhD. told the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP). Staples is an epidemiologist with the CDC's National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases in Fort Collins, Colorado.
There's no way to tell how the disease might spread in the U.S. but health officials may see small, focal outbreaks of the disease. Dengue fever, a similar disease has done this, she noted.
When the virus made its way to temperate regions in Europe, health officials realized that it could also invade the U.S. and the CDC has taken this seriously—strengthening the ability of laboratories to detect the disease, and it has also developed resources that allow clinicians to diagnose infections in patients, she said.
While Chikungunya fever isn't usually life-threatening, six deaths have been reported in the Caribbean, WSVN reports.
According to the CDC, symptoms of the disease include:
• Fever and joint pain.
• Headache, joint and muscle pain.
• Rash.
The symptoms can often be severe and disabling and joint pain is known to sometimes last for months, but fortunately most people begin to feel better in a week or so. The disease can be severe in newborns that are infected around the time of birth, or in people with diabetes, high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart disease. Older people are also at risk, the CDC reports.
While there is currently no vaccine or medication to treat this virus, the CDC has issued recommendations for prevention.
Prevention can include:
• Wearing long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and hats to prevent mosquito bites.
• Wearing insect repellent. This should include products that contain either DEET, Picaridin, Oil of lemon eucalyptus, or IR3535.
If you are traveling, the CDC also recommends that you sleep in an air-conditioned room or use a bed net if sleeping outside. If you think you may have contracted this disease, talk to your doctor, especially if you've been traveling. If you do get sick, the CDC recommends that you rest and drink plenty of liquids.
More about Chikungunya virus, Mosquito, Caribbean, Jamaica, Aruba
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