Six cases of a debilitating virus carried by mosquitos has been reported in Cuba; officials reason that the virus has been transferred on travelers from Caribbean countries. Chikungunya first came to the Americas in Dec 2013 and was reported by the World Health Organization when it appeared in Saint Martin. Since then there have been many reports across the Caribbean, in countries like Anguilla, Dominica, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Martinique, Guyana, Sant Kitts, Turks and Caicos, and various others. For this reason the suggested levels of bug protection have been raised so that travelers are less likely to come into contact with the virus.
Spreading and Symptoms
The world chikungunya literally translates loosely into the phrase “contorted with pain”, which doesn’t make this virus sound like a pleasantry. The virus begins through the transmission of a mosquito bite into human flesh, and at first the symptoms may resemble a flu or common cold, which is why many people don’t catch onto what’s really affecting them at first. What really sets the virus apart is the fever that accompanies excruciating joint pain, headaches, rashes, joint swelling, and other bodily pain. It has been described as feeling like coming down with a randomly sudden case of intense arthritis in combination with other unfortunate symptoms. It’s mainly seen in travelers who go into Caribbean islands unprotected, but Africa, Asia, and islands located in the Indian and Western Pacific ocean have also come into contact with chikungunya. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention says: “The mosquito that carries chikungunya virus can bite during the day and night, both indoors and outdoors, and often lives around buildings in urban areas.”
These six cases within Cuba could be due to a multitude of occurrences aside from vacationing, regular trips are made to other countries in an effort to import clothing and other items to sell within Havana and other regions of the country. They also send medical staff from Cuba to Haiti to treat those who can’t afford healthcare in their own country. As Haiti is a large carrier of the chikumgunya virus, it makes sense that it would spread during this time.
Results of The Discovery
Since the virus was found, Cuban government officials have created a campaign that works door to door to fumigate residences and illuminate any possibilities of mosquitos that might be carrying the illness. With the discovery arriving in the early summer months, during monsoon season, there’s a surge of mosquitos and diseases that are spread like them, as is customary around this time of the year. CBC News reports: “According to a report by the Pan American Health Organization, there have been about 166,000 suspected and 4,600 confirmed cases of chikungunya in the Caribbean as of mid-June.
For this reason those travellers who are returning home to Cuba are asked to see a doctor as soon as they reenter the country, and to be more serious and vigilant about seeking treatment if any negative abnormal symptoms should occur upon arrive home.
Unfortunately, as of today no preventative vaccine or medication has been found yet that can keep chikungunya from spreading, but steering clear of mosquitos and their bites is one way to protect yourself. Those travelling to these infected regions are urged to take precautions by using insect repellant and long sleeved clothing. Experts suggest seeking out products with higher doses of active ingredients such as DEET, oil of lemon eucalyptus, IR3535, and Picaridin. You can also make a difference to your chances of a healthy trip by wearing clothing that has been treated with protective elements to keep mosquitos from penetrating the core in an effort to get to human blood. Similar to having the flu, physicians suggest that patients with possible cases of this virus should stay hydrated and get enough sleep so that their bodies can properly battle the illness.
A Global Problem
It isn’t just Cuba that needs to worry about this invading virus, the United States have begun to show signs of this illness as well as tourists return home from Caribbean vacations where they’ve travelled unprotected and unprepared. Last week within the U.S. a case of chikungunya appeared in the state of Georgia, and North Carolina and Tennessee are following suit. The CDC has actually reported a total of 57 infections so far within the country, but if it continues to spread at such a constant rate, it could be much more by the end of the summer season. Sara Cheshire of CNN writes: “Experts say American tourists are bringing chikungunya back home, and it’s just a matter of time before it starts to spread within the United States.”
Although only 5,000 cases have been confirmed so far this year within the Caribbean, there is an assumption that the number is much higher and that over 160 thousand people are affected but living undiagnosed.
Any traveler or individual who is concerned that they may be developing symptoms associated with chikungunya should consult their physician immediately. If you plan on travelling out of the country any time in the future you should take extra precautions and pack protective clothing and make sure that you’ll be sleeping in a room that’s air conditioned and well-sealed from the outside world. The cool air from an air conditioning system will drive the mosquitos away and send them seeking out a warmer climate in another room.