Chikungunya Update – Protecting Yourself During Caribbean Travels

January 21, 2015By

In 2014, approximately 800,000 people who live in or visited tropical locations such as the Caribbean contracted the chikungunya virus. This virus, while not fatal in most cases, causes serious muscle pain and fever. Some who have been infected have dealt with the incapacitating pain in their muscles for months and even years after being infected with the virus. If you are planning on traveling to tropical locations during spring break or Mardi Gras, you need to make sure you know how to avoid this devastating illness.

mosquito

mosquito

What is Chikungunya Virus?

Chikungunya is an illness that is spread from the bite of a mosquito. People who are infected typically notice symptoms within around five days after being bitten. While severe muscle pain and fever are the most common symptoms, the virus can also cause rash, swelling in the joints, and headache. The virus rarely results in fatality, but some individuals, such as those who have heart disease, high blood pressure, are over 65, or have diabetes are more likely to experience complications.

Areas to Watch

As mosquitoes are most active in warmer climates, tropical locations have a much higher incidence of the virus. Currently, the CDC lists the following popular Caribbean destinations where the virus has been reported:

  • Aruba
  • Bahamas
  • Barbados
  • Cayman Islands
  • Dominican Republic
  • Haiti
  • Jamaica
  • Montserrat
  • Puerto Rico
  • Saint Martin
  • Trinidad and Tobago
  • US Virgin Islands

There are a total of 26 different locations in the Caribbean that have reported the chikungunya virus, which puts anyone who plans to travel to one of these tropical locales at risk. Additionally, it is also possible for you to contract the virus while on vacation, and infect mosquitoes here at home when they drink your infected blood.

Protection is Key

The best way to avoid being infected is to avoid areas in which the virus is most prevalent. However, since few people want to give up their vacation to a tropical locale during spring break or Mardi Gras, the next best thing is to make sure you protect yourself from being bitten.

Mosquito Bite Prevention

The following are some of the most effective ways to make sure you can enjoy your vacation mosquito bite free. While most of us in our area are familiar with this advice, it bears repeating:

  •        Wear long sleeves and pants, and keep your head covered with a hat.
  •        Look for insect repellent that contains the following ingredients:

o       DEET

o       Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus

o       Picaridin

o       IR3535

  •        Make sure you always follow the application directions for mosquito repellents, including how frequently they need to be reapplied.
  •        Protect children by applying repellent to all exposed areas, except their face, hands, mouth, and eyes.
  •        When using sunscreen, make sure to apply the insect repellent after applying sunscreen.
  •        Look for clothing that is pre-treated with repellent, and follow care directions for best results.
  •        Avoid sleeping in areas that do not have screens or are located outdoors.

Special Considerations

There are some travelers that are at considerably higher risk of health complications if exposed to the chikungunya virus. If you are in one of the following high risk groups, it is recommended that you either avoid traveling to tropical locations, or speak to your doctor:

  •        People with medical conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes
  •        Travelers that are 65 years and older
  •        Women who are pregnant and within the latter part of the third trimester as the virus can be passed to the baby during childbirth

Chikungunya virus is becoming a major concern in tropical locations. If you plan to travel, make sure you plan appropriately so you can protect yourself during your travels.

Filed in: Chickungunya