CDC issues warning for St. Martin over chikungunya fears

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning people traveling to St. Martin to beware of biting mosquitoes that may carry the chikungunya virus.

Chikungunya, which means “that which bends up” in the Makonde language, is a disease that causes fever, headache, tiredness, nausea, vomiting, rashes and muscle or joint pain in the ankles and wrists. Symptoms can linger for a few days to a few weeks, but exhaustion usually stays for an extended period of time. It is rarely fatal.

Typically, Asian and African mosquitoes carry the disease. Millions of cases have been reported by patients in countries near the Indian Ocean since 2004.

That doesn’t mean it can’t spread to other countries. In the U.S.,105 cases of chikungunya fever were reported from 2004 to 2009, the CDC noted.

The World Health Organization said on Dec. 6 that officials were alerted to two confirmed cases of chikungunya in people who were infected on the French St. Marten side of the island. The other side of the island, St. Maartens, is owned by the Netherlands.

WHO authorities were alerted to the possibility of the outbreak when they were investigating dengue fever cases on the island. Five patients at this time had joint paints and fever, but they did not have dengue.

As of Dec. 10, there are an additional four probable and 20 suspected cases of the virus infecting people who had been to St. Martens.

The CDC issued a Watch Level 1, the lowest of the travel notices, on Dec. 13 as a results of the WHO's advisory.

To prevent mosquito bites, the CDC recommends wearing long-sleeved shirts, long pants and hats. Insect repellant should be used as directed, noting that higher percentages of active ingredients usually leave longer-lasting protection. Sleep in air conditioned rooms and under a bed net if possible.

CDC Recommended bug sprays containing DEET, Picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) or PMD or IR3535. Do not use permethrin on the skin, but you can buy clothing or other protective items that contain the chemical. The Environmental Working Group recently released a list of safe bug sprays, and also recommended  those compounds as the safest and most effective. 

If you feel sick, especially if you have a fever, contact a medical professional. Tell them about your recent travel itinerary. Get lots of rest and drink liquids, and try to avoid future mosquito bites.

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