St. Vincent and the Grenadines is bracing for a possible outbreak of the dreaded mosquito-borne disease chikungunya.
Chikungunya is a mosquito-borne viral disease first described during an outbreak in southern Tanzania in 1952. The World Health Organisation says the name “chikungunya” derives from a word in the Kimakonde language, meaning “to become contorted” and describes the stooped appearance of sufferers with joint pain.
- Chikungunya is a viral disease transmitted to humans by infected mosquitoes. It causes fever and severe joint pain. Other symptoms include muscle pain, headache, nausea, fatigue and rash.
- The disease shares some clinical signs with dengue, and can be misdiagnosed in areas where dengue is common.
- There is no cure for the disease. Treatment is focused on relieving the symptoms.
- The proximity of mosquito breeding sites to human habitation is a significant risk factor for chikungunya.
- Since 2004, chikungunya fever has reached epidemic proportions, with considerable morbidity and suffering.
- The disease occurs in Africa, Asia and the Indian subcontinent. 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 a localized outbreak in north-eastern Italy.
The disease has been spreading across the Caribbean since late last year and St. Lucia recorded its first case last week.
And, in his message to mark World Health Day, April 7, celebrated this year under the theme “Small Bites, Big Threats”, Minister of Health Clayton said the National Surveillance Committee within the Ministry of Health is monitoring closely chikungunya and other non-indigenous vector borne diseases such as malaria and yellow fever.
“… these diseases are no longer confined to their traditional geographical location,” Burgin said of the ailment, which originated in Africa.
“The threat of these diseases is even more potently facilitated by climate change, which may result in changing habitat and distribution of vectors, and the phenomenal increases in international travel and trade. These changes create opportunities for vectors and the diseases they spread to take up residence in new areas,” Burgin said.
He further said that after its recent entry into the Caribbean, chikungunya has now become a household name.
“Thankfully, we have not yet recorded any cases of chikungunya. Nevertheless, the threat looms large, especially since St. Lucia, our closest northern neighbour, reported its first case last week. Perhaps it is just a
matter of time before it reaches our shores, given that it is transmitted by the same vector that transmits dengue fever,” Burgin further stated.
He said vector control is the most powerful preventive tool, but it must be used to its full potential.
“The Ministry of Health, Wellness and the Environment has, therefore, invested in both the human and physical resources necessary in this regard. However, the huge efforts by the professionals within the Ministry will come to nought if individuals, households and communities do not support or complement these efforts.
Burgin therefore called on citizens to play part in preventing the breathing and propagation of vectors.
He further said the Insect Vector Control Unit within the Ministry of Health, will mount an exhibition designed to point the way towards integrated vector control, at the entrance to the Postal Services Corporation, beginning at 9 a.m. on Monday.
The Ministry of Health has also announced that it will partner with the National Insurance Services to host two other health fairs at the Golden Age centres at Black Point and Cane Grove.
These health fairs will offer health screening and give demonstrations on how to prevent vector borne.