Travelers heading to the Caribbean may face the "The Deadliest Animal in the World," a pesky and deadly little critter -- the mosquito that's infecting individuals with a less commonly known disease, chikungunya. In fact, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation list this little fly as way more dangerous than shark and snake bites.
Trips to the Caribbean this time of year are relatively inexpensive, and many people are going there not only for board meetings and conferences, but on leisure travel. Heading to the blue waters and tropical islands this summer, travelers need to be aware of chikungunya and how to prevent it.
We have seen outbreaks of malaria and dengue, both mosquito-borne illnesses. Now, cases of chikungunya (this disease is spread by the Asian Tiger Mosquito) were first reported in the Caribbean in December 2013 and have spread widely. Since this outbreak was first detected on the French island of St. Martin, the virus has spread to affect a number of islands and nations which border the Caribbean Sea. Some countries are experiencing large outbreaks with hundreds of cases, including Dominica, Dominican Republic, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Martinique, Saint Lucia, Saint Maarten, Saint Martin, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
Other locations that have less intense activity include Anguilla, Aruba, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, British Virgin Islands, Cuba, Guyana, Puerto Rico, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Turks & Caicos Islands, and the US Virgin Islands. Across the region, more than 100,000 people have been infected and at least 14 have died from the disease. Health officials within this region have stepped up measures to identify and control the spread of infection.
It's important to note that the disease cannot pass from person to person. The first symptom is usually a sudden onset of fever. Severe joint pain is also one of the disease's main symptoms -- chikungunya is Swahili for "that which contorts or bends up." Headache and rash are also common. Symptoms are similar to dengue, and laboratory testing is required to confirm the diagnosis.
While there is no vaccine for chikungunya, preventing mosquito bites is the only way to prevent infection.
So, travelers to affected areas should take precautions:
• When outdoors wear clothing that covers most of your body (long sleeves, long pants, socks);
• Use an effective insect repellent that contains DEET, Picaridin, PMD, or IR3535;
• Ensure windows are covered with fly-wire. Use "knock-down" insect spray to kill mosquitoes in your room;
• Choose air conditioned accommodation if possible;
• Seek medical attention for a high fever and/or joint pains.
There is no cure for chikungunya and it is rarely fatal. Patients are usually instructed to rest, and recovery often takes several weeks. The associated joint pain can last for several months, or even years and patients may be more susceptible to other diseases. But a bit of forethought can go a long way when it comes to prevention.