A mosquito-borne virus recently arrived and is rapidly spreading in many Caribbean areas, health experts warned on May 1.
Caribbean health authorities said they cannot stop the virus that has already infected thousands and killed six in the region. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an updated travel warning for Dominican Republic and Dominica, saying that a couple of Caribbean spots and countries had reported chikungunya cases. The lowest level alert 1 encouraged travelers to use permethrin-treated clothes and insect repellants. The CDC is now monitoring the spread of the virus on the Caribbean, closely watching for signs of chikungunya in the U.S. as well.
The alert comes as the health ministry of the Dominican Republic became the 15th nation in the Caribbean to report chikungunya cases as Haiti awaits confirmation whether the viral disease had already arrived on its vulnerable shores.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported over 4,000 confirmed chikungunya cases in the Caribbean and the French territories appears to be hit the hardest. The agency also documented over 31,000 suspected chikungunya cases. The Caribbean is dependent on its tourists and is now preparing to welcome hundreds of thousands of travelers in the summer's travel season.
Chikungunya is a painful illness commonly found in Asia. It was first detected in Africa in December and this was the first time that the Americas reported to be infected by the disease. It has affected almost a dozen islands with French Guiana in the northern part of South America.
Most chikungunya patients recover within a week as the illness is unusually fatal but some patients still experience joint pain for several months or even years. The pervasive Aedes aegypti spreads and transmits the virus, similar to a more serious disease called dengue fever. There is currently no vaccine against these viruses.
Unlike dengue which has killed 14 people with a fatal hemorrhagic form in the Dominican Republic, chikungunya is rarely life-threatening. According to Leticia Linn, a spokesperson for WHO and Pan American Health Organization, children below one and adults over 65 with hypertension and diabetes, along with chronically ill patients are at a high risk for serious complications and even death from chikungunya.