Jamaica is currently hosting a regional workshop on how to deal with the mosquito-borne viral disease, Chikungunya.
Persons from over 20 Caribbean countries are undergoing training on how to detect and treat this illness, as well as participating in vector control activities.
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Chikungunya, which normally occurs in Africa, Asia and the Indian subcontinent, is characterised by an abrupt onset of fever frequently accompanied by joint pain. Other common signs and symptoms include muscle pain, headache, nausea, fatigue and rash.
The joint pain is often very debilitating, but usually ends within a few days or weeks. Most patients recover fully, but in some cases, joint pain may persist for several months, or even years.
According to Acting Director, Health Promotion and Protection Branch, in the Ministry of Health, Dr. Sonia Copeland, the disease which is similar to dengue, was previously “not on our radar at all."
"Some persons are not as ill as (with) dengue, but the fact is that it can leave you with painful rheumatoid arthritis and persons who have contracted this chikungunya, some of them have been so disabled, they have not been able to work again," she revealed.
Dr. Copeland was speaking at a handing over ceremony for vehicles to the various health authorities, at the Ministry's headquarters in Kingston, on May 30.
Due to its similarity to dengue, Dr. Copeland noted that the disease can be misdiagnosed, and speculated that "it could be here."
"We don’t know (if it is here) and maybe we are just calling everything dengue,” she said, adding that laboratory technicians are also being trained to detect it.
According to a World Health Organisation (WHO) fact sheet, Chikungunya was first described during an outbreak in southern Tanzania in 1952. It is an alphavirus of the family Togaviridae. The name ‘chikungunya’ derives from a root verb in the Kimakonde language, meaning ‘to become contorted’ and describes the stooped appearance of sufferers with joint pain.
Also, there are no specific drugs to cure the disease, and treatment is focused on relieving the symptoms, including the joint pain. There is no commercial chikungunya vaccine.
The document further reads that in recent decades, mosquito vectors of chikungunya have spread to Europe and the Americas. In 2007, disease transmission was reported for the first time in Europe, in a localised outbreak in north-eastern Italy.
It also states that the proximity of mosquito breeding sites to human habitation is a significant risk factor for chikungunya. The virus is transmitted from human to human by the bites of infected female mosquitoes.
Most commonly, the mosquitoes involved are Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, two species which can also transmit other mosquito-borne viruses, including dengue. After the bite of an infected mosquito, onset of illness occurs usually between four and eight days, but can range from two to 12 days.
In terms of prevention and control, the fact sheet informs that this aspect relies heavily on reducing the number of natural and artificial water-filled container habitats that support breeding of the mosquitoes. This requires mobilisation of affected communities.
During outbreaks, insecticides may be sprayed to kill flying mosquitoes, applied to surfaces in and around containers where the mosquitoes land, and used to treat water in containers to kill the immature larvae.
By Alecia Smith-Edwards, JIS Reporter