Winter break travelers to the Caribbean and other tropical countries should protect themselves from mosquito bites, New York doctors say — the pests may be carrying the chikungunya virus. The disease has nothing to do with chickens but does cause fever, a rash and severe joint pain that can linger for months and even years.
“It’s to be suspected in cases of people who have returned from the Caribbean now,” said Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital. “Often what they are coming in with is terrible joint pain involving fingers, the knees, the ankles, the wrists,” he said. More than 2,300 U.S. travellers — nearly 30% of them, or 688, from New York state — caught chikungunya in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The disease, which is not deadly, has infected a million people in the Caribbean and parts of Latin America since it spread from Asia and Africa two years ago. Local cases have been reported in 27 Caribbean countries, from Anguilla to the U.S. Virgin Islands, the CDC said. lindsaylohan via Instagram Lindsay Lohan took to Instagram on Jan. 2: ‘Still with chikungunya but feeling better on and off @patrickaufdenkamp @oprah thank you for your call #beherenow.’
The actress Lindsay Lohan, who said she contacted chikungunya during a vacation in French Polynesia in December, told her Twitter followers to wear bug spray. “Being sick is no fun,” she tweeted. Dr. Tsoline Kojaoghlanian, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore, cautions her immigrant patients traveling to visit family in the Caribbean to avoid getting mosquito bites. “This is not a joke,” Kojaoghlanian said. “If the mosquito carries the virus and the mosquito bites you, the risk of transmission is very very high.“
She tells travelers to the Caribbean to apply bug spray with DEET several times a day and wear long sleeved shirts and pants. Avoid stangnant water in places like planters or tire swings, Kojaoghlanian said — the water is a breeding ground for mosquitoes. If travellers are wearing sunscreen, they should put on sunscreen first and bug repellent second, the CDC recommends. Uncredited/ASSOCIATED PRESS Doctors in the U.S. don’t know much about the mosquito-borne virus, it’s believed.
The main species of mosquito that carries the virus isn’t found as far north as New York. But experts are worried the disease could spread in the southern U.S. after about a dozen people in Florida contacted it from mosquitoes without leaving home. “It’s not spread person to person, its transmitted by mosquitoes and mosquito bites,” Glatter explained. “It’s possible this virus could begin to spread in the south.“
According to the World Health Organization, the virus’ name is derived from a word in the Kimakonde language of East Africa meaning “to become contorted,” describing the appearance of a sufferer hunched over with joint pain. There is no treatment or vaccine for chikungunya — doctors provide supportive care, including anti-inflammatories. The disease usually shows up about three to seven days after someone is bitten by an infected mosquito.