BETHLEHEM, Penn. — In the Caribbean, the chikungunya virus has taken a hold. Arriving just six months ago, there have now been 4,600 confirmed cases and 166,000 suspected cases.
The virus is transmitted through mosquitoes, and its symptoms include fever, rash, nausea and joint pain that can last for months or even years. But a mere list of its symptoms hardly does the virus justice. Its victims have described the experience as an awful flu combined with a sudden onset of arthritis, incredibly high fevers and terrible muscle and joint pains.
Cuba is the latest country to find the virus within its borders, reporting six cases. Before that, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands both reported cases of the virus as well.
The CDC raised concerns over the virus once it was detected in popular Caribbean ports. In the well-visited ports, the potential for the virus to spread to many people from many different places becomes a real concern.
Chikungunya was originally only found in Asia and Africa. In 2007, the virus was reported in Northeastern Italy, spreading to Europe. It spread to the Caribbean in 2013, with the first reported case on December 10 on the French side of St. Martin.
The French islands, Guadeloupe and Martinique, have reported the highest number of cases at 1,300 and 1,500 respectively. Currently, 20 different states or islands have reported cases of the virus.
Furthermore, 18 cases have been reported in Florida. While every infected person has traveled to the Caribbean or South America, epidemiologists have expressed uneasiness about the possibility of Florida mosquitoes spreading the virus. If that were true, the U.S. could be affected by a potential outbreak.
Although the virus is almost always nonfatal and does not typically result in any complications, severe cases can lead to chronic joint pain and a heightened risk for arthritis.
With no vaccine for prevention and no real treatment for its symptoms, the prevention of its spread is paramount.
In Haiti, the virus has caused real economic effects. To combat the fever, the high demand has caused the cost of acetaminophen to double. In response, the Ministry of Health has ordered 400,000 doses of acetaminophen to be distributed throughout the island.
Ultimately, although the virus is normally nonfatal, its painful and disruptive symptoms pose a real threat to human populations, especially in those with poor conditions. The agony of the virus’s victims is very real and has the potential to leave lasting effects such as arthritis and chronic pain. With a lack of tools to combat the virus, countries need to focus on prevention methods to reduce the number of cases and prevent its spread.
Sources: LA Times, BBC, Aljazeera, Reuters, Time, UPI, Salon