With the Ebola epidemic still raging in Africa, the last thing that travellers need right now is another viral outbreak. Sadly though, that’s exactly what seems to be happening in Central America and the Caribbean right now, as a mosquito-borne virus threatening to disrupt holiday plans in the coming months.
The disease, known as Chikungunya, was first identified in Tanzania in 1952. While it has been present in Africa, Asia and the Indian subcontinent for some decades, it is the current rise in infections that is causing concern among the healthcare sector. According to Public Health England the number of cases of tourists becoming infected with the virus has increased 432% in the last 3 months leading to concerns over the safety of travel to these areas.
The symptoms of Chikungunya include rashes, fever and severe, debilitating joint pain akin to advanced arthritis. In those with depressed immune systems such as the very young, as well as the elderly, it may be fatal in some cases.
While Chikungunya cannot be passed from person to person there is currently no preventative treatment on the market. Unlike other mosquito-borne diseases like malaria there are no tablets or medications that can be taken in advance to reduce the odds of an infection.
The mosquito that carries the disease is known to be day-flying so avoiding going out after dark – as recommended in malaria-prone areas – will also do little to control the odds of becoming infected.
Even though Chikungunya cam be found in a wide range of the warmer parts of the world it seems that it is the Caribbean area that is seeing the greatest growth – and so represents the greatest chance of infection. Martinique, Guadeloupe, Haiti and the Dominican Republic are key hotspots at present.
The message is clear; expats and tourists alike should ensure that they take suitable precautions to avoid infections. In addition if travelling to the Caribbean for some winter sun ensure you have suitable healthcare insurance so that you can be certain of the highest levels of care should you be unlucky enough to become infected.
In terms of prevention, expats are advised to stay covered up as much as possible and to regularly apply mosquito repellent. It seems that while the mosquitoes are day flying, bites are rather more likely around dusk and dawn, so sleeping under a mosquito net can still be another helpful tip.
Lastly, keep an eye out for fever-like symptoms, which are often misdiagnosed as dengue fever, and if you have any concerns whatsoever report them to a trusted medical professional to ensure accurate and timely treatment.
N.B. If you are concerned about Chikungunya we strongly advise you to contact a medical professional for detailed advice. The information in this article should not be considered medical advice and is presented here for informational and entertainment purposes only.