St Lucia braces for increase in cases of chikungunya disease

The first case of the disease in the Caribbean was reported in the French island of St. Martin last year.

The first case of the disease in the Caribbean was reported in the French island of St. Martin last year.

CASTRIES, St. Lucia, Saturday April 5, 2014, CMC – Health authorities say there could be more cases of the chikungunya disease in St. Lucia, after the island earlier this week announced the confirmation of its first case of the mosquito-borne disease.

“There is a possibility that other persons on the island may actually have the disease,” said Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr. Merlene Frederick.

Dr. Frederick said there’s a spectrum in terms of the clinical presentation of the disease with some people actually contracting it without symptoms of fever and just mild joint pain.

“We know chickungunya is transmitted by mosquitoes so as long as we have a infected person and mosquitoes are around and bite them, there is a possibility of transmission,” the CMO noted.

She said if St Lucia has a low mosquito population it is likely that the island would have a small chikungunya problem and conversely a high mosquito population would result in a “more serious outbreak.”

Dr. Frederick said it was for that reason that the Ministry of Health is encouraging citizens to ensure that they start eliminating breeding places for mosquitoes.

“If we can keep the mosquito population down there’s a good chance we can have a low impact in terms of the chikungunya virus,” the CMO said, adding that the Ministry of Health was “in a good place” in terms of its public awareness, which intensified after the severe weather disaster in December last year.

In announcing that a 63-year-old man had contracted the disease, the national epidemiologist in the Ministry of Health, Nehum Jn Baptiste, said the authorities were urging the public not to panic.

“We do not want to create any panic. It is because of our efforts with respect to strengthening the surveillance that we are now able to detect much quicker, not only chikungunya but dengue, leptospirosis and some of the other diseases that present with similar symptoms,” Jn Baptiste said.

Symptoms include a sudden high fever, severe pain in the wrists, ankles or knuckles, muscle pain, headache, nausea, and rash. Joint pain and stiffness are more common with chikungunya than with dengue. The symptoms appear between four to seven days after the bite of an infected mosquito. The majority of clinical signs and symptoms last three to 10 days, but joint pain may persist longer. Severe cases requiring hospitalisation are rare.

The first case of the disease in the Caribbean was reported in the French island of St. Martin last year. Since then it has spread to several countries with Dominica Tuesday urging nationals to adhere to measures to prevent the spread of the chikungunya disease on the island.  Click here to receive free news bulletins via email from Caribbean360. (View sample)]