Caribbean fever

Three Florida women report acquiring chikungunya fever in Caribbean

 
 
School children in Roseau, Dominica receive materials about how to prevent the mosquito-borne chikungunya virus, which is caused by the same mosquito that spreads dengue. The awareness activities in April were sponsored by the Dominica’s environmental heath department.
School children in Roseau, Dominica receive materials about how to prevent the mosquito-borne chikungunya virus, which is caused by the same mosquito that spreads dengue. The awareness activities in April were sponsored by the Dominica’s environmental heath department.
Zilma Charles / Dominica Environmental Health Department

jcharles@MiamiHerald.com

The Florida Department of Health is calling on residents and visitors to vigilantly protect themselves against mosquito bites after receiving reports that three women who recently returned from the Caribbean had acquired a viral mosquito-borne disease that’s quickly spreading through that region.

Health Department Spokesman McKinley Lewis said he didn’t know which specific countries the women from Miami-Dade, Broward and Hillsborough counties had visited, only that they reported having chikungunya (ChikV) fever.

Since the disease, commonly found in Africa and Asia, was first detected in the Caribbean in December, it has quickly spread to 15 Caribbean countries and French Guiana in South America. Haiti recently became the 16th nation to confirm cases.

“Chikungunya is a reportable condition in Florida, however, if someone has it and never seeks medical attention, there’s no way we would know,” Lewis said. “People should take every possible measure they can to avoid mosquitoes...once you have the virus, you can infect mosquitoes that don’t have it, which can go along and infect other people.”

Chikungunya fever is transmitted by the same Aedes aegypti mosquito that transmits dengue. But while dengue is much more fatal, chikungunya is easier to acquire, said Dr. Pilar Ramon-Pardo, a clinical management specialist with the the Pan-American Health Organization.

With 4,853 confirmed cases of more than 50,000 suspected cases, and seven deaths, PAHO and the Caribbean Public Health Agency consider the disease “an epidemic.”

“We’re seeing a high number of cases in a very few weeks,” Ramon-Pardo said.

One place where this is true is Haiti, where anecdotal evidence shows it is quickly spreading during the ongoing rainy season and some wonder if the figures are higher than the 1,529 cases a Health Ministry spokesman reported this week.

“I know more than 50 people who have it between my family, friends and work,” said Carolina Sada, a businesswoman and board member of a Prodev Foundation, which runs several schools in the capital. “I am confident that all of the schools in the country and people living in the most vulnerable places, such as Cité Soleil, haven’t been reporting. For me, the real numbers are far higher than 1,500.”

On its Web site, Haiti’s Health Ministry says that the virus is located throughout the country, and Haitians should eliminate puddles and other standing water that help breed mosquitoes. It also says that “in general, symptoms disappear within one to three weeks.”

Experts say while that may be true in some cases, the virus does have chronic, long-term implications, which PAHO has warned regional health officials to be on the lookout for.

“Longer term, some increase in the levels of joint pains and arthritis-like illness in the population can be expected, given the patterns in Africa and Asia, and given what the French islands are reporting,” said Dr. James Hospedales, the executive director of the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA). “This may be the real ‘legacy’ of ChikV that we will see in time.”

And in post-earthquake Haiti, where 300,000 people suffered injuries during that country’s devastating Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake, people could be at higher risk, Hospedales said.

“From the literature, the persistent arthritis-joint pain following ChikV infection seems more frequent in the presence of pre-existing joint damage, fractures,” he said.

Hospedales said CARPHA plans to set up a study of the first few thousand Caribbean patients in hopes of getting a better understanding of the virus and its effects.

Concerned about the potential economic impact in the region, Hospedales said it’s important for regional hotels and tourism facilities to remain proactive — from making repellant available to taking measures to reduce pests and mosquito breeding sites.

Johnson JohnRose, a spokesman with the Caribbean Tourism Organization, said the group continues to assess the situation but is encouraging “visitors to continue with their travel plans to the Caribbean.”

“Local populations and visitors alike are assured that the Caribbean remains open for business and safe for travel,” he said.

Those who do travel, should coverup by wearing long sleeves, pants, socks and buying some sort of repellant that is going to keep mosquitoes away, the Florida health department said. Repellents with DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, and IR3535 are effective.

Floridians also should drain water from garbage cans, house gutters, pool covers and any other containers.

Read more Haiti stories from the Miami Herald

  • Haiti

    U.S. lawmakers to Haitian Senate: Vote for election law

    A bipartisan group of 15 members of the U.S. Congress have written to Haitian Senate President Simon Desras calling on senators to pass the legislation necessary for long overdue elections to take place this year.

  •  
A supporter of Haiti's former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide holds up a picture of him, while demonstrating in front of his house during a protest in his support, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014. Supporters of the former president have been blocking the street in front of his house as the popular former leader faces possible arrest for not providing court-ordered testimony in a criminal investigation.

    Haiti

    Despite election delays, Aristide remains focus

    Defying a judge’s order, opposition leaders in Haiti plan to visit former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was put under house arrest last week as part of an ongoing criminal investigation.

  •  
Haiti's first lady Sophia Martelly, right, talks with Health Minister Florence Duperval Guillaume in a warehouse housing a donation of kits to treat chikungunya, in the Cite Soleil slum, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2014. The U.S. medical group Direct Relief donated millions of kits to treat the mosquito-borne virus that has sickened tens of thousands across the Caribbean over the past year.

    Haiti gets help for mosquito-borne virus outbreak

    Haiti has received a large shipment of treatment packets to help it deal with an outbreak of the mosquito-borne virus known as chikungunya amid a rainy season expected to result in a surge of new cases in the country, officials said Wednesday.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category