The Cuban Ministry of Health has confirmed the first six cases of Chikungunya, a painful and often lingering arthritis-like fever that has been spreading rapidly across the Caribbean for the past six months.
Five of the victims returned recently from Haiti and the sixth returned from the Dominican Republic, the ministry said Wednesday, indicating that they were infected by virus-carrying mosquitoes abroad and not in Cuba.
All are recovering and most were “linked to illicit commerce,” the ministry announcement added, apparently referring to the practice of traveling abroad to buy cheap goods and selling them for a profit after returning home.
Independent journalist Mario Hechavarría reported last week that doctors at a hospital in the eastern city of Holguin had told staffers of dozens of cases of Chikungunya in various parts of eastern Cuba.
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Similar to dengue fever, Chikungunya causes headache, rashes and fevers that last two to five days, followed by joint pains that are similar to arthritis and can persist for years. It is rarely fatal but can kill already weak victims.
Widely spread in Africa and Asia, the disease was first spotted in the Caribbean in December in the French territory of St. Martin. Nearly 90,000 suspected cases have been reported in Haiti and the Dominican Republic since then.
Cuban doctors already are facing new outbreaks of dengue and cholera during the summer season, when mosquitoes spread dengue and the rains flood latrines and help to spread cholera.
The brief Health Ministry statement said that none of the Cubans in state-run assistance programs around the Caribbean have returned home infected because they are put “under a strict quarantine.” It gave no further details.
Cuban officials are often reluctant to confirm outbreaks of diseases on the island, apparently to avoid scaring away foreign tourists who are one of the key sources of hard currency income for the government.