This Cattail mosquito in Maine can transmit Eastern equine encephalitis and West Nile virus, but not Chikungunya . (AP Photo/Pat Wellenbach)
Last week, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a travel advisory to tourists planning to travel to the Caribbean island of St. Martin for the holidays. There have been 10 confirmed cases on the French side of the island of chikungunya, mosquito-borne virus that’s rarely fatal but can cause fever, gastrointestinal symptoms, and severe joint pain that lasts for weeks or even months.
If you’re heading to the Caribbean during the winter holiday, the CDC has urged travellers to take extra precautions to protect themselves from mosquito bites.
Chikungunya—pronounced chik-un-GUHN-ya—means “that which bends up,” because patients often are stooped in pain for the first few days or week of the illness. This is the first time it has been detected in the Western Hemisphere, though outbreaks have occurred in Europe, Asia, Africa, and islands in the Pacific Ocean.
Dr. Al DeMaria, an infectious disease specialist at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, told me that travelers shouldn’t be too worried about contracting the illness. Chikungunya is unlikely to have traveled to other Caribbean Islands in the current outbreak, because it’s transmitted from person to person via mosquitoes. That means an infected person likely traveled to St. Martin, was bitten by mosquitoes that became carriers, and then infected other people in the nearby vicinity.
The CDC, however, sounded this cautionary note: “Further spread on St. Martin, to other Caribbean islands, and to the surrounding mainland areas is possible in the coming months and years. The mosquitoes that spread it are also found in some areas of the United States.”
To be on the safe side, tourists should take precautions to avoid mosquito bites. “These steps include using insect repellent, wearing long sleeves and pants, and using air conditioning and screens on windows and doors to keep mosquitoes out,” advised the CDC.
Those returning from the Caribbean who experience fever and joint pains as well as other symptoms of chikungunya—headache, muscle pains, or rash—should see their doctor. There is no specific treatment beyond managing symptoms.