Those planning to cash in on cheap travel to the Caribbean this summer should consider heeding standard guidebook advice on bug spray and mosquito nets; a virus with an offbeat name is sweeping the islands, inflicting symptoms from high fever and excruciating joint pain to muscle aches and rashes.
Chikungunya, a mosquito-borne disease most common to central Africa, India and Southeast Asia, is not deadly, but it is a pain in the … joints, causing swelling and debilitating pain that can last for months.
The Defense Department published a fact sheet for service members or families on chikungunya (pronounced chicken-gun-ye) in 2007 and sent updated reporting guidance to doctors June 30, reminding them to test for the disease while considering other illnesses — such as dengue fever or tick-borne viruses — to explain symptoms.
Defense Department officials did not say whether any troops or family members have been infected but said they are aware of the growing epidemic and are taking it seriously, advising installations to take precautions against mosquito infestations and recommending that doctors report any cases to their respective service public health commands.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been nearly 260,000 suspected cases of chikungunya in the Caribbean, with the Dominican Republic being the hardest hit, having more than 135,000 cases.
Guadeloupe and Haiti follow with about 40,000 cases each.
On Monday, Boston health officials confirmed that four area residents who recently traveled to the Caribbean tested positive for the disease.
Chikungunya — an African Makonde word that means “bent over in pain,” according to PAHO — is transmitted by two different mosquito species, including the same one responsible for dengue and yellow fever. Symptoms, including pain, headache, fever and rash, begin three to seven days after infection and subside within a week. But they may last longer, up to several months, according to the CDC.
Roughly 90 percent who are infected will develop symptoms, according to the center.
Since there is no treatment, DoD officials recommend taking precautions, including wearing long sleeves, limiting outdoor activities during times when mosquitoes are active and using bed nets or sleeping in air-conditioned rooms.
They also recommend using DEET-based insect repellent or those containing picaridin or oil of eucalyptus and permethrin-treated clothing and gear.