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PRESS RELEASE – On May 1, 2014, Dr James Hospedales, Head of the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), declared that the Chikungunya virus has reached epidemic proportions in the Caribbean.
St. Lucia confirmed its first case of Chikungunya in April of 2014 in the village of Anse La Raye. Following that, cases were next identified in communities in Gros Islet and Dennery.
Initially, the brunt of the disease was felt in the northern parts of the island. However, after a few months, surveillance reports traced the movement of the disease to the southern parts of the island, from which the majority of new cases are now being identified.
Chikungunya is a viral disease which is spread mainly by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which incidentally, is the same mosquito specie which transmits Dengue Fever.
Symptoms of the both Dengue and Chikungunya include fever, headache, body aches and pains; but joint pain and joint swelling is more characteristic of Chikungunya.
It should be noted that we are in the rainy season and as such, dengue fever is also in circulation and on the rise, though not at epidemic proportions. Dengue fever is endemic in St. Lucia, (implying that we diagnose cases all year round).
However, due to the increased availability of water and possible breeding sites for mosquitoes during, the rainy season, the number of dengue fever cases increases each year in a seasonal pattern, coinciding with the onset of the rainy season.
Given that both Chikungunya and Dengue fever are transmitted by the same vector (the Aedes aegypti mosquito) it is possible that persons may be infected with both diseases simultaneously.
This possibility should be kept in mind, especially in children, adolescents and young persons, who develop signs of febrile illness.
As such, parents should ensure that children are brought in for review at a Health Centre or other medical facility, should any sign of Dengue or Chikungunya Fever develop.
In order to decrease the burden of mosquito borne disease we should ensure that there are no breeding places for mosquitoes, in and around our homes. Drums, tanks and other water receptacles should be properly covered.
Persons should wear long sleeved clothing to prevent mosquito bites. Insect repellents can be used on the skin and insecticides may be used sparingly in the home.
The Ministry of Health continues to encourage community clean up campaigns and similar actions to rid our surroundings of potential breeding sites for mosquitoes.
The Environmental Health Department will continue its “fogging” operations especially in affected communities, but this should not be the sole or primary means of destroying mosquitoes.
Paracetamol or panadol is the main “pain killer” prescribed for Chikungunya. However, if on examination of a patient, a medical practitioner is satisfied that the patient does not have dengue fever, other pain medications can then be prescribed.
It should be noted that other more potent painkillers are contraindicated in someone who has dengue as it can lead to complications such as bleeding.
Persons are reminded that it may be difficult to distinguish between these two diseases and co-infection is possible, so self treatment with medications other than paracetamol should be avoided.
Again, children, adolescents, pregnant women and elderly persons, as well as persons suffering from other chronic diseases should seek care early from an approved practitioner, rather than self treating at home.
Persons can only get infected with Chikungunya once. It is believed that one develops lifelong immunity after an infection. This situation differs though with Dengue as there are 4-5 known Dengue Fever serotypes so technically, a person may get infected with dengue on more than one occasion.
Chikungunya and dengue fever can be prevented by destroying the mosquito vector which spreads this disease, as these diseases are not airborne.
Let us work together to destroy all breeding places of the Aedes aegypti mosquito. For more information, please contact the Bureau of health Education at 4685349.