Washington, D.C., September 10, 2014 (AMG) – As the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) cautions CARICOM that the worst of the Chikungunya epidemic could be yet to come, the number of cases continues to rise throughout the US.

Eight months after the mosquito-borne virus was detected for the first time in the Caribbean, CARPHA executive director Dr. James Hospedales said that almost all countries in the region have reported it. To date there are over 8,000 confirmed cases, with more than 640,000 people thought to have become infected, and countries across the Americas reporting a rise. An increase in the number of Dengue Fever cases suggests that current control methods may not be working as well as was hoped, leading to a call for greater awareness of prevention methods.

From 2006-2013 an average of 28 people per year were diagnosed with Chikungunya in the US – almost all having recently returned from Asia. From early 2014, travellers were returning from Caribbean with the virus and, as of last week, 751 cases had been confirmed. Seven of these cases were transmitted locally, prompting fears of a widespread epidemic similar to the Caribbean.

Chikungunya virus disease cases reported by state, as at September 2, 2014. CDC.

Concerns have been raised that the virus could mutate such that it could be transmitted by other mosquitoes, which could put millions more at risk. Such instances have happened in East Madagascar and independently in Mayotte in the Indian Ocean, causing an acceleration of the epidemic.

Chikungunya is a viral disease spread by two types of mosquito. The disease causes high fever, headache, joint and muscle pain, and there is no current treatment or vaccine. While the disease is rarely fatal, people can be left with chronic pain that persists for weeks or months after other symptoms have cleared.

The lack of resistance to the virus, movement across the region and a high density mosquito population have all led to perfect conditions for the spread of Chikungunya.

Residents at risk are being asked to reduce the number of breeding sites in and around their house by covering or draining areas of still water and spraying thoroughly with insecticide.

Those who are already infected are advised to avoid being bitten by remaining under nets and using repellent.

Caribbean warned about chikungunya as cases continue to rise in the US

Deborah Almond

Deborah Almond is AMG's Health Editor and an infectious disease specialist, with experience in sexual and reproductive health and malaria in pregnancy. She holds an MSc from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and a BSc from University College London.

Category: Health