Travel warning issued for chikungunya

By Jasminee Sahoye

Aedes aegypti, a type of mosquito blamed for spreading chikungunya in the Caribbean.
Aedes aegypti, a type of mosquito blamed for spreading chikungunya in the Caribbean.

The Canadian government and the Public Health Agency of Canada are warning travellers visiting areas where chikungunya occurs and in areas being affected by a chikungunya outbreak to take precautions.

Chikungunya, aka, ChickV, Foulgunya and ChickyV, is a disease which typically causes fever, along with an arthritis-like pain in the joints and a rash. It is spread to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito, mainly the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus species.

The symptoms of chikungunya can appear very similar to those of dengue fever, although it is caused by a different virus. There is no vaccine or medication that protects against chikungunya virus.

The Public Health Agency of Canada states “outbreaks of chikungunya have become increasingly frequent over the past months after local transmission was reported for the first time in the Caribbean in December of last year. Since then, local transmission of the virus has spread to many countries in neighbouring regions.”

The government of Canada website is advising travellers that symptoms of the disease can take up to 12 days to appear, but usually begin within three to seven days after being bitten by an infected mosquito. They generally include fever and joint pain. Other symptoms can include fatigue, headache, nausea, vomiting, muscle pain, and rash.

“Most people recover after a few days, though in some cases joint pain may persist for weeks or months. Gastrointestinal, eye, neurological and heart complications have sometimes been reported. Complications are rare but can be more common in infants, older travellers and people with chronic medical conditions (for example, diabetes and hypertension).”

If you plan to travel to the Caribbean, consult a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic preferably six weeks before you travel.

Protect yourself from mosquito bites, particularly around sunrise and sunset. Those who may be at higher risk of complications include infants, older travellers and people with chronic medical conditions.

If you develop symptoms similar to chikungunya when you are travelling or after you return, see a health care provider and tell them where you have been travelling or living.

In Jamaica, where there is a large diaspora in Canada, the first reported case was June 2014. Recently Jamaica’s Health Minister, Dr. Fenton Ferguson, reported two cases where the patients were bitten and contracted both dengue fever and chikungunya with one bite by the same mosquito.

As the fall and winter season approaches, many Jamaicans in the diaspora travel back to Jamaica.

Herman Slater, a 60-year-old gardener in Jamaica’s capital of Kingston, said he was laid out for almost two weeks this month with unimaginable joint pain, hammer-pounding headaches and fevers that came in waves.

“I tell you, I was surprised by how painful it was. It was taking me five minutes to get out of bed and then I could hardly even walk,” Slater said. “My hands were so bad I couldn’t open a bottle, couldn’t comb my hair. Every night I was wet from sweat.”

Outbreaks are in Hanover, St. Catharine, St. Mary, St. Andrew, St. Thomas and Port Antonio, and the outbreak of disease has the potential to affect anywhere from 30-60% of the population which, represents 800,000 to 1.8 million from a population of 2.7 million living in Jamaica.

Guyana has also recorded a number of cases of the disease as well as Dominica.