The summer travel season is rapidly approaching. Honeymoons are being booked, and family vacations are being researched. For those looking to vacation beyond the United States borders, the Caribbean is always a popular choice. There are many economical options, and the locale is very appealing.
Visions of lazy beach days, exotic meals and memories that last a lifetime come to mind. Of course, this is the reality we all hope for. Some travelers, however, come back with a different reality and memories that are not at all what they expected.
In 2013, the World Health Organization (WHO) began tracking a disease called Chikungunya in the Caribbean. Translated it means contortion. As recently as 2015, the disease has spread like wildfire across the Caribbean. This has been alarming to travelers and the travel industry since this has caused a decline in bookings to the Caribbean starting in 2014.
Chikungunya is a mosquito-borne illness. Symptoms, which appear approximately 3-7 days after the bite include fever, joint pain, and swelling, headache, muscle pain, or rash. A doctor treating a patient with these symptoms may order a blood test to confirm the diagnosis. Anyone with the above symptoms should see their doctor immediately and make them aware of any recent overseas travel.
Similar to other viruses, the most at risk for severe complications are newborns infected around the time of birth and adults over the age of 65. People with medical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart disease should also seek medical attention if they feel they have been exposed to the disease.
Currently, there is no treatment or vaccine for Chikungunya. The recommended course of treatment is to get plenty of rest and medicines such as ibuprofen to alleviate fever and pain. Dehydration is a common side effect of the virus, so it is important to drink plenty of fluids while working toward recovery. The disease is incurable and in some cases can be fatal. As of 2014, there were over 500,000 documented cases in the Caribbean. The death toll was well over 100. It is suspected the death rate is approximately one per 1,000 infected.
Transmission occurs when a mosquito bites an infected person and they become infected. Once the mosquito is infected, they can pass the illness on to every subsequent person they bite. If there is good news, it’s that there are no known cases of the disease being transmitted from mother to child or through blood transfusions.
So far authorities are monitoring approximately 93 cases of Chikungunya in the United States. None have been fatal, and all have been linked to Caribbean travel. None were locally transmitted. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the virus seems to be largely concentrated in the Northeast, but states across the country have been impacted. Here in Massachusetts, we’ve had 3 confirmed reported cases, but luckily all were contracted out of the country.
It may be tempting to delay or even cancel your overseas dream vacation. The choice is yours. It is helpful to know that serious complications such as renal failure or seizures are extremely rare. As stated above the majority of symptoms can be managed with over the counter medicines and rest. While the disease may be chronic, it does not have to be debilitating. Keep informed and research any destination visited. Maybe that vacation isn’t so far off after all.
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