Traditional herbal remedies harnessed to treat chikungunya in Antigua

chikungunya-740aST JOHN’S, Antigua, Tuesday March 31, 2015 – Last summer, 38-year-old Sira Berzas from Antigua and Barbuda was struck down with chikungunya, the mosquito-borne disease that has swept through the Caribbean infecting more than 800,000 people since it was first detected in the region in December 2013.

The debilitating virus, which originated in Africa and derives its name from a word meaning “to become contorted” in the Kimakonde language, is characterised by the abrupt onset of fever, deep joint and muscle pain, headache, nausea, fatigue and a rash.

“I was fine when I went to bed,” Berzas told the BBC, “but when I woke up in the morning and tried to get up my ankles hurt so much I couldn’t stand. It was very scary. After that I started getting different pains all over my body. Soon my hands were so swollen I couldn’t hold anything. I knew immediately it was chikungunya.”

While most patients recover fully from the disease, the pain can persist for months or even years. Chikungunya can be deadly in older people, moreover.

World Health Organization (WHO) figures indicate that 176 fatalities across the Caribbean, Latin America and the United States were linked to the virus last year.

According to a BBC report, Berzas is one of a growing number of sufferers who turned to natural remedies to alleviate the symptoms.

“I didn’t go to the doctor as it’s expensive and everyone I knew who’d been to their GP was just told to take paracetamol and rest. I tried painkillers but nothing worked. The mornings were the worst; my joints were so stiff I could hardly move,” she said.

“When I got desperate I went to Dr Amu, the naturopath. He gave me two teas to drink and an oil to rub on my skin. It soothed the rash and diminished the pain a lot. It didn’t go away but at least it was manageable.”

It was four months before the aches finally abated.

“Even now, 10 months later, my ankles still hurt in the morning. I don’t know how I would have coped if it hadn’t been for Dr Amu; I recommended him to lots of people. Nothing else worked for me,” Berzas told the BBC.

Self-taught naturopath Sylvester Tyrone “Amu” Motley reportedly prescribes a four-pronged approach to fighting chikungunya.

The first is a tea to be drunk three times daily on an empty stomach. It contains echinacea to boost the immune system, and chaparral and burdock root to purify the blood, ease pain and soothe the rash, he told the BBC.

Second is a detox made by boiling five different plants in fresh spring water.

“Arnica, soursop and cattle tongue are wonderful cure-alls,” Motley, who scours the local countryside looking for the plants, explained.

“Then there’s neem, which is an antiseptic, and dandelion to cleanse the body. That should be drunk all day long instead of water.”

He also makes a special oil to be applied after bathing and at night on critical parts of the body.

Motley, a staunch advocate of the power of plants, said he had not had the illness and believed that was largely due to his personal intake of herbs.

“It’s tried to come a couple of times but my body fights it off,” he indicated.

In the absence of scientific evidence, conventional doctors are sceptical.

Dr Nick Fuller, whose GP practice is based in St John’s, told the BBC: “Herbalism is not proven so I couldn’t recommend it.

“But I don’t see any harm in it,” he added.

“At the end of the day, chikungunya is a virus and needs to run its course,” he explained. (BBC News)

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